On the Horizon: Future Treatments for Lupus

By

Paige Greenfield

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Which Lupus Medication Is Right For Me?

Every case of lupus is unique, so it's critical to work with your doctor to determine the best medications for you.
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If you have lupus, there are many reasons to feel hopeful these days. Scientists are working hard to gain a deeper understanding of the disease, and they’re researching new ways to better treat and ultimately cure it. One example is the new lupus medication Benlysta, the first drug approved to treat the disease in more than 50 years. Many more novel drugs are in the pipeline.

Before a medication is approved to treat a particular condition, it must go through a rigorous series of studies called clinical trials to prove that it’s safe and effective. Depending on the specific circumstances of your case, your doctor may suggest enrollment in an investigative clinical trial. Here’s a look at a variety of drugs scientists are studying today that could be used to treat lupus and its complications down the road.

Biologics

These medications interfere with parts of the immune system involved in the disease.

Example:

  • Orencia is currently approved to treat rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and is being studied for treating lupus that involves the kidneys (lupus nephritis).

Immunosuppressives

They prevent the body from churning out too many of the immune cells that cause swelling, inflammation, stiffness, and pain.

Examples:

  • Arava, a disease-modifying antirheumatic drug, is already approved to treat RA and may help with arthritis caused by lupus.

  • Thalomid may be an effective treatment for people with cutaneous lupus, even in those who have not responded to other medications.

Monoclonal Antibodies

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These biologic drugs target specific white blood cells, called B and T lymphocytes, that make autoantibodies—proteins that attack your body’s tissues and cause pain, inflammation, and damage.

Examples:

  • Rituximab (Rituxan) binds to a specific protein on the surface of B cells and then works with your immune system to destroy those cells.

  • Sirukumab is a monoclonal antibody that blocks interleukin-6, which plays a role in autoimmune diseases like lupus.

Organ Transplant Anti-Rejection Drugs

Drugs that stop the body from rejecting a transplanted organ may help people with lupus because they target the same white blood cells that cause inflammation and damage throughout the body. Many of these medications are also immunosuppressives.

Examples:

  • CellCept may be especially helpful for treating kidney disease in lupus patients.

  • Prograf, used to prevent the rejection of liver, kidney, or heart transplants, interferes with T cell activity.

  • Neoral and Sandimmune are immunosuppressive drugs used in organ transplantation, which limit the negative effects to the immune system.

Topical Immunomodulators (TIMs)

This is a new class of drugs that suppresses immune system activity in the skin.

Examples:

  • Protopic and Elidel are creams that may aid the butterfly rash that develops across the face in many people with lupus. They also may help with discoid lupus skin lesions—round, raised, red, scaly rashes.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Apr 10, 2017

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Medical References

  1. Lupus in 2025. Lupus Foundation of America, Inc. http://resources.lupus.org/entry/lupus-in-2025
  2. Handout on Health: Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. National Institutes of Health.     National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. https://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Lupus/default.asp
  3. Arthritis and Rheumatic Diseases. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. https://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/arthritis/arthritis_rheumatic.asp