Lupus community deserves some good news


Kenneth Farber

This week, we’ll be presenting positive data from a Phase II study on anifrolumab at the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) 2015 Annual Scientific Meeting in San Francisco. Anifrolumab is a novel type I interferon receptor antagonist that we’re investigating for the treatment of moderate-to-severe systemic lupus erythematosus—SLE, or lupus.

 To gain a better perspective on lupus and why new and better treatments are needed, we reached out to Kenneth Farber, the president of the Alliance for Lupus Research (ALR), which is in the process of combining with the Lupus Research Institute (LRI) and SLE Lupus Foundation (SLE) to form the largest voluntary organization in the world focused on lupus research.

Lupus is a serious, complicated and remarkably underserved autoimmune disease. It is both difficult to diagnose and difficult to treat. For patients, this means living with pain and damage to many parts of the body—joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels and the brain.

Treatments for lupus are limited, with only one new drug approved in almost 60 years. While current treatments can be effective, they are imperfect and often toxic, with many causing serious side effects and long-term negative health issues.

At ALR/LRI/SLE, we are committed to helping people with lupus get what they deserve – dramatically better, safer, and more effective treatments. Our two organizations—both leaders in lupus research funding—have decided to unite in order to have the greatest impact in this area. Once the merger is final, we will continue to be the largest private funder of lupus research in the world, giving approximately $20-25 million dollars annually to research projects at some of the most prestigious institutions in the world.

There are many challenges to finding new treatments, and designing and conducting good clinical trials is one of those. Lupus is heterogeneous, its symptoms wax and wane, and clinical trial endpoints are hard to clarify. Many trials fail.

Today, patients with lupus are really in need of some good news.

Our organization hopes to help deliver that, through our support of improved clinical trials and targeted therapy, and research into repurposing medicines.

We have created the Lupus Clinical Investigators Network (LuCIN), a global nexus of what we believe are the best clinical investigators in the world. Our hope is that their expertise will help trial recruitment through distinguishing lupus from the diseases that it mimics, thus accelerating and increasing the chances for successful studies.

Another program we’re excited about is the exploration of repurposing medicines already approved for other indications. This approach could make getting new treatments to lupus patients easier, faster and less expensive. Except for one, all the most recent treatments for lupus have been repurposed from other indications, validating this approach. But that fact is also a bit depressing, further highlighting the reality of how difficult drug development is in lupus.

We applaud MedImmune and AstraZeneca for being at the forefront of finding better treatments for lupus. We believe that lupus needs a far more targeted approach to treatment, as that is key to providing greater efficacy and fewer side effects. To that end, we think the interferon pathway is one of several exciting targets for drug development in lupus. Seeing smart, proactive and capable biopharmaceutical companies looking seriously at lupus and willing to address such an underserved disease is extraordinarily heartening to us.

I’m encouraged that we’re now seeing academia, industry and nonprofit organizations working together in a much more cohesive and entrepreneurial way. This is a profoundly positive development, as no one group is likely to get the job done alone. If we continue to work in partnership, the likelihood we can accomplish great things for people with lupus increases significantly.