Belimumab is the first lupus medicine to gain federal approval in 56 years. Unfortunately, it will help only about 20 percent of patients who have the disease.
But Dr. Dan Wallace of UCLA Medical Center says the good news is that belimumab, which is marketed as Benlysta by Human Genome Sciences, will be the first of many lupus treatments to arrive in the next few years.
Lupus is a chronic disease in which the immune system attacks its own tissues and organs. The inflammation that results from lupus can damage the blood cells, heart, joints, kidneys, lungs and skin. According to Lupus Research Institute (LRI) estimates, more than 1.5 million Americans have the disease.
Because lupus affects different people in different ways, it’s been a challenge to find a medicine that will help a wide group of patients, says LRI President Margaret Dowd. That’s why more medications to treat lupus are likely to emerge. Different medications will affect each patient differently.
Wallace says Food and Drug Administration’s approval of belimumab gave researchers a roadmap to get more lupus medicine approved. The guidelines include two simultaneous trials that last at least 1 year on at least 750 people who have the disease. If the medicine results in less inflammation and no new organ damage, it has better odds of approval.
Wallace says belimumab won’t cause damage to a patient if it’s used and found to be ineffective. A year supply is expected to run $35,000, but as of press time, it was unknown whether it would be covered by insurance.
– P. Snyder