New Drug for a Leading Autoimmune Disease

The drug Benlysta looks promising if you have lupus.
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For Your Health

New Drug for a Leading Autoimmune Disease

Benlysta looks promising if you have lupus

-Susan Crandell

PharmacyIf you’re one of the million-plus women in the United States who suffer from lupus, you’ll be happy to hear that there’s a new drug in the pipeline to treat your disease. In phase 3 trials right now, Benlysta is the first new treatment in 40 – yes, 40 – years to fight this autoimmune disease.

What Is Lupus?
Lupus is mainly a disease of women; nine of us are diagnosed for every man who is, and it strikes us when we’re young, mostly during childbearing years. Women of color are two to three times as likely to develop lupus.

Virtually any part of the body can be affected, and though in all cases the condition results from our immune system attacking our own tissues, lupus manifests very differently in different patients. Some suffer painfully swollen joints, while others have rashes, fevers, or chest pain. Fatigue is often a factor. Symptoms wax and wane; the acute period is called a “flare.” There’s no diagnostic test, so doctors must rely on a constellation of symptoms to make the call, including swollen joints, protein in the urine or fluid in the chest. The 11 criteria for diagnosis (any four must be present) are listed on the website of the Lupus Research Institute. Lupus can damage vital organs, including the heart, lungs, kidneys and brain. It can cause premature cardiovascular disease and even strokes.

The new drug, Benlysta, treats systemic lupus; other varieties include cutaneous lupus, which affects only the skin, and drug-induced lupus, which can be induced by certain medications (blood pressure and heart arrhythmia medications are most common, but a whopping 400 drugs can cause lupus). A fourth type, neonatal lupus, affects babies of women who have lupus, causing rashes, liver problems, low blood counts and heart defects. Testing can identify mothers who are at higher risk, and happily, most symptoms resolve after several months even without treatment.

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