The medications available for treating lupus have stayed pretty much the same for several decades. But in the past few years, we’ve seen a breakthrough with targeted therapies—medicines that are directed at one little molecule in the immune system.
Watch this video to learn more about how lupus is treated:
The most significant new treatments
Instead of using the scissors approach like before, now we’ve got a scalpel. Doctors like me who treat lupus are hoping that these newer medications will have fewer side effects and be more effective.
- Belimumab, which is given intravenously, works on knocking out the white blood cells, called B lymphocytes, that make antibodies. It hasn’t been shown to be an effective treatment for lupus patients with kidney disease. But if you do not have kidney problems, you may see some benefit.
- Rituximab has been used in rheumatoid arthritis patients with good results, and it’s being studied for use in patients with lupus as well. It also knocks out B lymphocytes that produce antibodies. Lupus is a disease where trying to knock down the production of antibodies is important.
- Thalidomide and lenalidomide, which work on the immune system, are showing some promising effects on lupus that affects the skin. They’re FDA-approved for other conditions but are being used off label and in clinical trials for lupus patients. Part of the appeal is that these medications are taken as a pill rather than an injection, unlike similar drugs for joint problems.
- Tofacitnib, which has been shown to slow joint damage, was recently approved for use in rheumatoid arthritis patients. There’s hope that it will help lupus patients as well.
Belimumab is currently FDA-approved for lupus. The others are being studied for their effectiveness in lupus patients. If other treatments haven’t worked for you, you can talk to your doctor about using the medication off-label or taking part in a clinical trial.
Watch this video to learn more about living with lupus: