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Lupus drug Benlysta offers long-awaited hope

March 10, 2011|By Mary Forgione, Tribune Health
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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.

 RELATED: FDA approves first new treatment for lupus in five decades

The blog "The Life of a 20-Something With Lupus" provides a window into how debilitating the condition can be.

"I'm just a normal 28 year old woman ... except for the fact that I have Lupus," writes its author, known as Miz Flow. "I gotta admit ... it's not easy. I deal with constant chronic anemia, joint pain, kidney disease even home dialysis 5 nights a week."

In her blog, Miz Flow has created an archive of pain and hope -- and one she hopes will help and inspire others. According to a recent entry, she's awaiting news on whether she'll be eligible for a kidney transplant -- just one of the organs in her body ravaged by lupus.

In lupus, the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue in the joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels and even the brain, says the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. There's no single test, and a diagnosis could take years.

Miz Flow writes that she was diagnosed just after middle school.

"Lupus hit me in a strange (and quick) way. I had just graduated from grade 8 and was on top of the world. I was voted class president and had been selected by my peers to address my graduating class as the valedictorian. There wasn’t a sport or a club that I wasn’t involved in. As a graduation gift, my parents bought me a brand new bike, which I rode throughout the city every single day of that summer. Who knew that the November following that very summer I’d be so paralyzed with fatigue that I had to crawl from my bed to the washroom?"

Proper treatment can require a cadre of specialists in addition to a family doctor -- rheumatologist, clinical immunologist, nephrologist, hematologist, dermatologist, neurologist, cardiologist and endocrinologist, as well as nurses, psychologists and social workers.

But back to Benlysta. The Lupus Foundation of America hails it as "the first drug ever to be specifically developed to treat lupus." Prior treatment involved the steroid prednisone, aspirin and Plaquenil, an antimalarial drug.

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