Two Studies Revisit Potential for Rituximab in Lupus
According to two recently published studies, rituximab – a cancer drug that failed in a previous trial – was shown to be safe and effective in improving lupus symptoms among patients resistant to treatment.
In a study conducted by researchers in the UK, 261 refractory lupus patients (those resistant to treatment) were treated with rituximab; most were also taking steroids. Disease activity was lessened in half of these patients as measured by the two scales widely used to evaluate effectiveness. The need for steroids was also reduced. Researchers concluded that rituximab is safe and improved disease activity in patients with refractory lupus.
In another study, conducted in Japan, 63 refractory lupus patients received rituximab; 60% showed major improvement in symptoms while another 25% showed some limited benefit. Rituximab was considered well-tolerated. Infections were recorded in both studies.
These two studies concluded that rituximab may be effective for patients with lupus. Rituximab is a type of antibody therapy currently approved to treat certain types of cancer, as well as rheumatoid arthritis in combination with the immunosuppressive drug methotrexate; it is not approved for lupus.
Unfortunately, the previous Phase 3 EXPLORER trial had not proven that rituximab was effective in treating lupus. There had been no randomized, controlled studies of Rituximab in lupus before this trial.
“Despite the results of the EXPLORER trial, many researchers did not give up hope for rituximab as a potential treatment for lupus,” commented Lupus Research Alliance President and CEO Kenneth M. Farber. “We desperately need more treatment options, and while these studies are small, their results are encouraging for a subset of patients and may open the door to further investigation.”