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A drug called Benlysta from the stable of Human Genome Sciences Inc, a small biotech company has been approved by the U.S. as a new treatment for lupus in almost 50 years.

A new treatment for lupus in almost 50 years

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the new drug for the treatment of a specific kind of active, autoantibody positive lupus after undergoing clinical trials since 2006. People in the pharmaceutical industry are calling it as a watershed event which will push other major companies into R&D and come up with newer alternates for treatment of lupus, a crippling and fatal autoimmune disease.

Benlysta, generically called as belimumab, is a BLyS- specific inhibitor, a new genre of drugs. It does not allow the survival of B cells which differentiate into immunoglobulin producing plasma cells. The latter are responsible for the destruction of the host tissue characteristic of lupus. Benlysta is especially useful in relieving the muscle inflammation in lupus, caused by auto immunity. However, the drug has various shortcomings. It is not found to be very effective in dark skinned patients who form the bulk of the individuals affected by systemic lupus erythematosus. It is yet to be tested in patients having severe active lupus nephritis or having severe, active lupus of the central nervous system. Its interaction with other medicines like cyclophosphamide is yet to be ascertained. But despite these shortcomings, Benlysta is a new treatment for lupus in almost 50 years and with further clinical trials, it may have a role to play in the other types of lupus as well.

Lupus is an auto immune disorder with very few effective medications

Lupus is an auto immune disease in which the body’s own immune system turns against the normal, healthy tissue and attacks the various body systems instead of attacking foreign bodies like bacteria and viruses. This is because the antibodies produced by the body fail to differentiate between the intruders and the healthy cells. It can lead to chronic inflammation and damage to different body parts such as joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, skin, blood vessels and brain.

Lupus is more common in females. The disease flares up in an episodic manner wherein it worsens for a short time and then recovers followed by a symptom free period. No two individuals have identical symptoms of lupus although the common features of the disease include tiredness, fever, a typical butterfly shaped rash on the face, joint stiffness, breathlessness, chest pain, anxiety and memory loss, etc. Lupus is of four types, namely systemic lupus erythematosus affecting all the parts of the body; discoid lupus erythematosus affecting the skin; drug induced lupus erythematosus following the ingestion of certain drugs; and neonatal lupus found in new born babies. At present, very few medicines are effective against lupus. Patients use medicines like steroids, painkillers and anti malarial medicines to reduce the inflammation but the deleterious effects of these medicines are often worse than the symptoms of lupus itself. In such a scenario, the approval given to Benlysta by the FDA for patients with active lupus is a milestone in the treatment of lupus.

  • Human genome sciences and glaxosmithkline announce fda approval of benlysta® (belimumab) for treatment of systemic lupus erythematosus. March 9th. Human genome sciences.
  • Photo by shutterstock.com