The report of Benlysta as an effective biologic therapy that improves quality of life and suppresses disease activity in people with SLE is an exciting breakthrough in the search for new therapies for this chronic illness that threatens the lives and health of 1,500,000 people in the United States alone.
Most people with SLE never have a day in which they feel good, and the illness can be life-threatening if it involves major organs such as kidney, brain, heart or lung. Benlysta (belimumab) works by suppressing white cells (B lymphocytes specifically) that lead to production of autoantibodies (proteins that can attack the organs and are important in releasing other proteins that cause fatigue and aching).
These new results show that administration of Benlysta for one year, in addition to standard treatments for SLE, resulted in substantial improvement in almost 60% of people, compared to only 46% in the group that received placebo plus standard care; the improvement included better quality of life. There are several exciting contributions of this new study.
First and foremost, we may have a new, effective treatment for SLE.
Second, the study used a new outcome measure to evaluate whether the treatment was effective; results show that outcome measure is meaningful, and it may become the standard for new trials.
Third, the treatment was safe, in that there were no more serious health problems in the Benlysta group than in the placebo group.
Fourth, the Benlysta study shows the desire of people with SLE to find better treatments: 865 participated in this trial. Without them, none of these findings would have been possible.
All of us working to find a cure salute the 865 people who participated, Human Genome Sciences and GlaxoSmithKline who committed resources to finding this answer, and the physicians and their staffs who did the medical work.
I declare that I enrolled patients in BLISS-76 but did not participate in BLISS-52, which is the subject of my comments.
Bevra Hahn, MD
Professor of Medicine
David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA