May 2018: Lupus Research Round-Up

May is Lupus Awareness Month. In the United States, 1.5 million people, the majority of them young women, live with a form of lupus. Symptoms of the autoimmune disease vary, but can include pain, extreme fatigue, and severe rashes. Lupus can affect every organ of the body, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, or brain.

The condition is two to three times more prevalent among women of color. African American lupus patients are more like to have organ system involvement and more active disease than white people with lupus. Women of color also tend to develop lupus at a younger age and have more serious complications.

Research into new lupus treatments has been frustrating – only one new therapy for lupus has been approved since 1950. But new research offers hope into better treatments for symptoms, with fewer side effects. Lupus researchers are also advocating for improvements in clinical trial design to help new, effective treatments reach patients faster.

How can we improve lupus clinical trials?

In a new paper, lupus researchers have outlined a plan to improve clinical trials for lupus so effective treatments can reach patients faster.

To start, the paper suggests decreasing the size of lupus trials so it's easier to test more treatments. They propose designing trials to increase the differences that can be detected when patients receive an effective treatment, by using real world data gathered from failed studies in lupus.

"I have been involved in more than 30 failed clinical trials since the 1990s, and they did not all need to fail. Because of the way things have been set up, a lot of these drugs will never be made available even though they might have been effective," said Dr. Joan Merrill, director of clinical projects in the Arthritis and Clinical Immunology Program at OMRF.

The group also recommends making trials available to patients with more types of lupus, as well as increasing enrollment among people of color.

New clinical trial for first-of-its-kind lupus treatment

A new clinical trial for lupus aims to treat symptoms with fewer side effects. Corticosteroids, prescribed for patients whose lupus affects the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain or blood vessels, have particularly challenging side effects. They can lead to weight gain, changes in appearance due to fat distribution, mood changes, and an increased susceptibility to infections.

The trial is for a drug known as BMS-986165 that is the first of its kind to be tested in lupus. It works by suppressing pathways that are believed to be part of lupus. The Phase 2 trial is enrolling 360 people worldwide who are living with lupus.

"There remains a desperate need for effective treatments for lupus without the serious side effects common with existing options," Albert Roy, Executive Director, Lupus Therapeutics, said in a press release. "BMS-986165 is a very interesting and promising intervention for patients living with lupus. We are very excited to be partnering with BMS on this trial that we hope advances another treatment option for the disease."

Synthetic marijuana for lupus symptoms?

Another new clinical trial is investigating whether synthetic marijuana can be used to treat joint inflammation in lupus.

The new investigational drug candidate is similar in structure to THC, the active chemical in cannabis, but it doesn't have the same mood-altering properties. Instead, it aims to increase production of anti-inflammatory molecules in the body and reduce the production of molecules that increase inflammation.

Researchers hope the treatment will be found effective as an alternative to immunosuppressant therapies, which can include nausea and vomiting.

If you're interested in finding a lupus clinical trial looking for volunteers near you, start your search below.