Companies Working on New Treatments for Lupus
About two dozen pharmaceutical companies are using "new science and data to develop" treatments for lupus, which primarily affects minorities and women, and some of the treatments also could treat other autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, the Baltimore Sun reports. According to the Sun, lupus specialists say the number of people with the disease "has traditionally been significantly underestimated, making it difficult for drug makers to identify the demand." No new drugs have been developed in the past 40 years to treat lupus, a disease in which the immune system attacks the body and destroys organs, tissue and joints. As a result, patients have relied on treatments for other illnesses, such as aspirin, steroids, an anti-malaria treatment and chemotherapy. However, some of the treatments have severe side effects and insurance companies typically will not cover "off label" uses of a drug. According to the Sun, a "new understanding of the disease and breakthroughs in treating other autoimmune disorders" have led to new estimates of the number of people with lupus "and more interest in developing drugs." The Sun reports that "many are putting their hopes into the drugs being developed by the biotechnology sector using manufactured 'monoclonal antibodies.'" Michelle Petri, a professor of medicine and director of the Johns Hopkins Lupus Center, said, "(Such) biologics just target parts of the immune system; they won't go around killing normal tissues like ovaries." One experimental treatment being developed by Human Genome Sciences and GlaxoSmithKline, called LymphosStat-B, is designed to inhibit the activity of the B-lymphocyte stimulator, which is believed to contribute to the production of damaging lupus antibodies called "autoantibodies." Researchers say the drug initially could help as many as 240,000 U.S. residents -- 75% of those with systemic lupus erythematosus, which affects more than one organ (Bishop, Baltimore Sun, 2/13).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.