A new treatment for lupus, an autoimmune disease affecting 1.5 million Americans, may be on the horizon. The makers of the drug Benlysta announced results of a recent clinical trial, and the findings were promising: 43.2 percent of patients who took 10 mg. of the drug showed "significant improvement" of their disease compared to 33.8 percent of patients in the placebo group. The manufacturers plan to seek FDA approval in early 2010.
Earlier today, I asked immunologist Eliza Chakravarty, MD, who was involved in early studies on Benlysta, her thoughts on the development. She said the heterogeneity of lupus has made it difficult to develop effective medications, and clinicians have limited choices in how they treat patients. (Anti-malarials, prednisone and aspirin are the only approved options.) If given the nod by the FDA, Benlysta would be the first approved drug for lupus in decades - something she said she's "very excited" about. Chakravarty's patients are also eager and have been asking her about the drug. "Lupus patients are generally very knowledgeable, and they're aware of the lack of good treatment options," she noted.