Lupus drug Benlysta -- and its recent approval by the FDA -- is not run-of-the-mill news. Sometimes federal approval of new drugs doesn't garner much attention, but Benlysta is the first new drug to treat lupus in more than 50 years. And for people with lupus, that's quite a development.
Bear in mind: It's not a cure; there isn't one. But the drug holds promise and hope for the estimated 1.5 million people in the U.S. who have some form of the autoimmune disease.
With Black women some three times as likely to contract lupus as any other population and at younger ages, understandably there is plenty of excitement surrounding the new drug therapy Benlysta, but sisters shouldn’t make for the Moët quite yet.
While there’s incredible promise in medicine that’s genetically-targeted – or “molecularly profiled” – early results for Benlysta have not determined overall effectiveness in those of African descent.
Lupus causes the body to turn on itself, misidentifying healthy cells as hostile invaders. Previous drugs suppressed an immune system that had gone haywire. Benlysta works as an intravenous drug in combination with existing ones, attacking those errant proteins, as opposed to the entire immune system.
For years, the disease was just considered a form of arthritis.
Lumping lupus into that broader category curbed meaningful moves toward causes and cures. Add that it was a disease that mostly afflicted women, and you get the snail’s pace that marked modern investigative efforts, said Sandra C. Raymond, president and CEO of the Lupus Foundation of America.
Symptoms can flare, go into remission and then rage again. Increased miscarriages, accelerated kidney disease, stroke and even death due to compromised organ functions are among the bleaker realities for lupus patients. And though science hasn’t unlocked the reasons, lupus smashes the systems of Black women more severely and rapidly once it strikes – even more so than with any other group.
Human Genome Sciences Inc., which partnered with global pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline to create and market the drug, agreed to additional clinical trials to better measure results among Blacks.
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