March 13 (HealthDay News) -- The cancer drug Rituxan may offer the first new treatment approved for lupus in 50 years, suggests a small study by U.K. researchers at Imperial College London.
The 22-month study included 20 people with lupus nephritis, a severe kidney disorder caused by the disease lupus. After treatment with Rituxan, 60 percent showed significant signs of improvement, the researchers found. But the drug was not effective in people of African ancestry or in those with very low levels of albumin protein in their blood.
Rituxan targets hyperactive B cells, which contribute to kidney inflammation in people with lupus. If these study results can be repeated in larger trials, Rituxan might be approved to treat lupus, the researchers said.
"This is very welcome news to the 40 percent of lupus patients who are suffering with kidney involvement in their battle with systemic lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disease, and who until now had very little hope of a breakthrough for lupus nephritis," Virginia T. Ladd, president and executive director of the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, said in an association news release.
People with lupus experience a wide range of problems, including muscle pain, extreme fatigue and inflammation of the joints, skin, major organs and central nervous system.
SOURCE: American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, news release, March 9, 2009