microscopeAfter six months of receiving the drug belimumab (Benlysta), 59 percent of systemic lupus erythematosus patients lowered their prednisone doses, and 11.4 percent stopped the anti-inflammatory altogether.

“These patients also demonstrated improvement in the disease activity of lupus,” says Zahi Touma, assistant professor of medicine at University of Toronto.

Dr. Touma is lead author of the recent study “Belimumab use, clinical outcomes and glucocorticoid reduction in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus receiving belimumab in clinical practice settings,” published in Rheumatology International. The research draws upon the OBSErve (evaluation Of use of Belimumab in clinical practice SEttings) Canada study.

Prior to the new research, clinical trials have demonstrated the clinical effectiveness of belimumab, a biologic administered via IV, which inhibits certain B cells that are active in lupus. But it was still necessary to the drug’s impact in actual treatment. “It is always very important to study the clinical benefit of belimumab in real-world clinical practice,” Dr. Touma says.

In Canada, the health department approved Belimumab for lupus patients in 2011, but the drug isn’t covered everywhere by the public healthcare system. “Currently, belimumab is only accessible for patients with private medical insurances in the majority of the provinces,” Dr. Touma says. “We hope to see belimumab accessible for patients with lupus in the near future.”

The study has limitations, the author of the OBSErve U.S. study told MedPage Today. He added, “I think rheumatologists have a good sense of when patients are doing better or worse. In addition, no assessment tool to date can really reflect the heterogeneity of this disease.”