Lupus is an autoimmune disease that affects approximately 1.5 million people in America. And due to the complex nature of the condition, finding the appropriate way to treat lupus can be a challenge for patients and healthcare providers. As an autoimmune disease, lupus can affect multiple organs and tissues of the body, with symptoms ranging from skin rashes to kidney failure.
There are different types of lupus, but the most common type is called systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE. Lupus treatment, especially treatment for SLE, will often require multiple medication and therapy options to ensure patients can manage lupus symptoms. One of those medications is Benlysta. With additional therapies, Benlysta can be an effective way to help manage lupus.
Benlysta, or belimumab, is a breakthrough in the efforts to treat lupus. It is the first FDA-approved medication specifically designed to help treat SLE in addition to standard therapies. As of 2020, Benlysta was also approved for adult patients with SLE and active lupus nephritis, or lupus-induced kidney inflammation.
Did You Know? Other drugs can also treat lupus, but they weren’t originally designed with that intention. Benlysta is the first medication created with the sole purpose of treating lupus since the disease’s initial discovery.
Your body’s immune system is always working to protect you from foreign invaders. But with an autoimmune disease such as lupus, the body’s immune system attacks its own organs and tissues. With lupus, the immune system causes inflammation in multiple parts of the body, leading to lupus symptoms such as joint pain, skin rash, cardiovascular or pulmonary issues, and kidney inflammation.
Quick Statistics: It’s estimated that roughly 30% of people with SLE will also develop kidney disease, also called lupus nephritis.
One important part of the immune system is B cells. These are a type of white blood cell created in the body’s bone marrow. If B cells survive long enough, they can activate into immunoglobulin-producing cells, which help the immune system react to pathogens. Since lupus is an autoimmune disease, immunoglobulin-producing cells can attack tissues in the patient’s body. That’s where Benlysta comes in.
Belimumab is a type of medication called a monoclonal antibody. It does not get rid of B cells; instead, it binds to a protein called B lymphocyte stimulator, or BLyS. This protein helps B cells survive longer and can help create autoantibodies, which attack the patient’s own tissues.
By binding itself to BLyS, belimumab allows B cells to die out naturally, as they normally would, and helps reduce autoantibody levels. When combined with other lupus treatments, such as steroids, Benlysta can help reduce lupus symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Currently, there are two ways to receive belimumab: as an intravenous medication through an IV infusion, or as a subcutaneous injection with a prefilled syringe and an autoinjector. Adults are approved for both intravenous IV infusions and subcutaneous injections; children can only receive an IV infusion.
An intravenous infusion is done at your healthcare facility, and treatment usually takes about one hour. You’ll receive three doses of Benlysta at 2-week intervals, and then 1 dose of Benlysta every four weeks.
If you choose to use a prefilled syringe for subcutaneous injections, you’ll give yourself a dose of Benlysta once a week.
Some of the most common side effects of Benlysta are headaches, nausea, trouble sleeping, muscle aches, and mild infections such as colds or bronchitis. The injection site may also get red, swollen, or itchy. If your side effects are concerning, ask your healthcare provider for their recommendations on how to alleviate them.
It’s less common, but serious side effects of Benlysta can also occur. If you have serious side effects, call 911 or your healthcare provider as soon as possible. Examples of serious side effects include:
Benlysta works for adult patients with active SLE, and it can be used on children as young as 5 years old. However, it’s not for everyone. There are some patients who should avoid taking Benlysta to treat lupus, and should look into different treatment options instead.
Discuss alternative care options with your healthcare provider if:
Quick Tip: Make sure you don’t receive any live vaccines while on Benlysta. As the name suggests, live vaccines have a live but very weak version of the virus inside them. Most vaccines aren’t live vaccines, though, and you should be safe to receive most vaccinations. If you have any doubts, ask your doctor or pharmacist.
If you experience any of these symptoms, talk with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
There are still ongoing clinical trials to learn more about how Benlysta works, as well. If you’re interested in enrolling in a clinical trial and furthering research to treat SLE, you can talk with your healthcare provider or learn more here.