New Therapy for Lupus Shown to Be Safe

From the WebMD Archives

Nov. 17, 1999 (Boston) -- Lupus, to many people, means a disease that causes lesions on the skin. But in many cases, because lupus uses the body's immune system against itself it can be even worse, destroying internal organs and causing death. Now, a new therapy for lupus that blocks the unhealthy immune response may prove to be a safe and effective treatment for the debilitating disease, along with other similar inflammatory conditions.

Researchers here at the 63rd annual scientific meeting of the American College of Rheumatology say they've only completed the first phase of research into the therapy, making it too soon to jump to conclusions. But early results are encouraging. The researchers are using a specific type of antibody in the therapy that has been designed to interfere with the pathway between white blood cells, called T-cells, and B-cells.

Interaction between these two types of cells is necessary for healthy immune responses, but in the case of lupus, a reaction occurs that causes a 'cascade' of immune reactions that allows the body to 'attack' itself, much like the way the body may reject an organ following a transplant. Diseases that lead to the body essentially treating itself as a foreign object -- and therefore attacking itself -- are known as autoimmune diseases.

"There is experimental evidence that blocking this pathway, at least in animal models, will decrease autoimmune disease," principal investigator John Davis Jr., MD, assistant professor at the University of California, San Francisco, tells WebMD.

In mouse models for a type of lupus that specifically targets the kidneys, the antibody has been shown to be effective in decreasing the severity of disease when given both before and after the disease has developed, Davis says.

The antibody used in this study, dubbed IDEC 131, works by binding specifically to a particular type of protein on T-cells. The newly altered T-cell is stopped from binding to B-cells in a way that would lead to lupus. Thus the immune response that causes the body to attack itself is stopped and, as a result, the symptoms of lupus are stopped.


In the first phase of the study, designed to test the therapy's safety, 23 patients who were being treated for lupus with traditional medications were given infusions in the vein of the special antibody in increasing amounts. There were no serious negative effects in any of the patients. And although the antibody blocked the unhealthy pathway between the T-cells and B-cells, there was no decrease in number of the white blood cells during the three-month study, meaning the body's ability to have a healthy immune response was maintained.

The single doses used in the current study do not provide clinicians with enough information yet to form a solid scientific conclusion. That will be addressed in further studies that are currently ongoing, which will look at outcomes using a scale that measures the progression of lupus in the body. Those results are expected early next year, Davis tells WebMD.

Vital Information:

  • Lupus is a disease in which the body's own immune system attacks itself because of a faulty interaction between T-cells and B-cells.
  • Researchers have found an antibody that interferes with this pathway, but still allows healthy white blood cells to function normally.
  • When used in humans, the antibody produced no negative side effects, but further studies must be done to determine the efficacy of the new treatment.
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