Belimumab Therapy in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a complex heterogeneous disease, posing challenges to clinical trials. As in other autoimmune diseases, B-lymphocytes play a central role in lupus pathogenesis. The finding that selection and survival of B cells are controlled by a variety of signals, including those provided by the longevity factor BAFF (B-cell activating factor), also called BLyS (B-lymphocyte stimulator), led to preclinical trials that revealed that BAFF represents a promising therapeutic target for human lupus. Belimumab is a fully human monoclonal antibody directed against BAFF. Lessons learned from early clinical trials led to improved methods and success of phase III trials, with recruitment of patients with both clinically and serologically active disease, development and use of a novel SLE Responder Index, and progressive and special restrictions on immunosuppressive and corticosteroid use. These studies offer an attractive blueprint to conduct future clinical trials in SLE. The overall steroid-sparing ability and benefits of belimumab on musculoskeletal and mucocutaneous organ systems suggest that it has an impact on the clinical management of SLE patients. Future directions include studies to determine the role of belimumab in early SLE, as well as in renal or CNS involvement.