The Food and Drug Administration could soon approve the first drug meant specifically to treat Lupus in more than 50 years. Many patients say it’s about time.
Lupus is a disease that’s been historically difficult to treat, let alone diagnose. The autoimmune disease is a bit of a mystery for many people who may not know what it is or what it does to its victims. Serena McPherson certainly didn’t know what hit her 15 years ago when she had extreme fatigue and joint pain.
“Putting my feet on the floor was like nails stabbing me in my feet. My knees, to bend them, I felt like I was a 90-year-old person in a 21-year-old body,” she says.
She had limited success using various drugs and steroids until she started participating in a clinical trial for an experimental lupus drug at the University of North Carolina.
“We saw better control of lupus, but we didn’t see an increase in side effects,” says Dr. Mary Anne Dooley.
In Lupus patients the immune system goes into overdrive, attacking its own healthy organs and joints. Many drugs used to treat the disease suppress the immune system, leaving patients vulnerable to infections. Doctors say that for many mild to moderate cases of lupus the experimental injectable drug called Benlysta was able to suppress the immune system just enough.
“It basically takes the sort of hyperactive part of the immune system and decreases that hyperactivity,” explains Dr. Dooley.
While some say the drug’s benefits are mild, McPherson says Benlysta is working to keep her Lupus flare-ups under control. She hopes the FDA approves the drug for all Lupus patients. If approved, Benlysta would be used in combination with other drugs.
Some analysts expect it will cost patients as much as $30,000 a year.