Rituximab: rescue therapy in life-threatening complications or refractory autoimmune diseases: a single center experience
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- Braun-Moscovici, Y., Butbul-Aviel, Y., Guralnik, L. et al. Rheumatol Int (2013) 33: 1495. doi:10.1007/s00296-012-2587-x
Rituximab (RTX) is a chimeric anti-CD20 antibody, approved for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients who failed anti-Tumor Necrosis Factor therapy. It has been used occasionally for life-threatening autoimmune diseases (AID). We report our center experience in the use of RTX in life-threatening complications or refractory AID. Clinical charts of patients treated with RTX at our center were reviewed, cases treated for life-threatening complications or refractory AID were analyzed. Acute damage to vital organs such as lung, heart, kidney, nervous system with severe functional impairment were defined as life-threatening complications; treatment failure with high-dose corticosteroids, cyclophosphamide, IVIG, plasmapheresis was defined as refractory autoimmune disease. During the years 2003–2009, 117 patients were treated with RTX, most of them for RA. Nine patients (6 females, mean age 51.5 years, mean disease duration 6.3 years) answered the criteria. The indications were as follows: pulmonary hemorrhage (1 patient with cryoglobulinemic vasculitis, 1 with systemic sclerosis, 1 with ANCA-associated vasculitis), catastrophic anti-phospholipid syndrome (2 SLE patients), non-bacterial endocarditis and pulmonary hypertension (1 patient with mixed connective tissue disease), vasculitis and feet necrosis (1 patient with systemic lupus erythematosus), severe lupus demyelinative neuropathy and acute renal failure (1patient), and severe rheumatoid lung disease with recurrent empyema and pneumothorax (1patient). B cell depletion was achieved in all patients. The median time since starting of complications to RTX administration was 3 weeks (range 2–15 weeks). Complete remission (suppression of the hazardous situation and return to previous stable state) was seen in 7 out of 9 patients. Partial remission (significant improvement) was achieved in the remained. The median time to response was 3 weeks (range 1–8 weeks), mean follow-up 47.2 months (range 6–60 months). A rapid tapering off of steroids was achieved in all patients. Two patients relapsed and were successfully retreated with RTX: the patient with severe RA lung relapsed after 3 years, one of the patients with ANCA-associated pulmonary alveolar hemorrhage relapsed after 10 months. There were no side effects during RTX infusion. Two episodes of serious infections were registered: fatal Gram-negative sepsis 6 months after RTX treatment, and septic discitis 4 months after receiving RTX. RTX serves as a safe, efficient, and prompt rescue therapy in certain life-threatening conditions and resistant to aggressive immunosuppression AID. RTX when administrated at an earlier stage, prevented irreversible vital organ damage, and allowed rapid steroid tapering off in already severe immunodepressed patients.