Lupus Making Headlines Indicates New Level of Promise…and Hope

Marc Tessier-Lavigne, PhD“It’s time to look at pharmaceutical drug development as half-full,” said new Rockefeller University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne, PhD to an audience of more than 100 academic, industry and patient members of the lupus community at the dinner reception of the Lupus Research Institute 11th annual Forum for Discovery. According to Dr. Tessier-Lavigne, the past decade of knowledge in immunology has paved the way for breakthroughs in lupus treatments over the next 10-20 years. He attributes his guarded optimism largely to the growing collaboration among industry, academia, clinicians and the private sector in translating research into clinical medicine. “Private organizations like the Lupus Research Institute have helped academia to identify drug targets, and industry is rapidly building on that work to do what they do best — develop new drugs and make them very well.”

Half-Full Versus Half-Empty

Bearing out Marc Tessier-Lavigne’s positive perspective is the abundance of recent news on lupus drug development at pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Certainly the approval and launch by Human Genome Sciences and GlaxoSmithKline of the first drug for lupus in 50 years, Benlysta™, signaled a seismic step forward for lupus treatment. Particularly encouraging is the degree of corporate Investment and the large number of drugs for lupus currently in the pipeline. More than 30 companies are working in lupus with four novel compounds in Phase 3 clinical trials.

October’s Lupus News

In October alone, significant announcements moved lupus forward. The Lupus Research Institute launched a bold new global research initiative that aims to find the fundamental root causes of lupus that can drive to a cure. Made possible by an $8 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Distinguished Innovators program will fund the work of many top scientists around the world who bring forth the most creative project proposals with the promise of advancing towards a cure.

Several announcements of additional drug targets and industry partnerships came out this month. For instance, GlaxoSmithKline has added a new target to its strategic partnership with biotechnology company Dynavax Technologies that aims to develop treatments for lupus as well as other autoimmune diseases. LRI funded some of the earliest and most pivotal discoveries uncovering the role of toll-like receptors TLR 7 and TLR 9 in triggering strong inflammatory responses. The strategic alliance between the two companies now adds TLR8. More

Another recent announcement came from the biotechnology company Xencor with the initiation of a phase 1 study of the dual-targeted antibody XmAb®5871 as a possible treatment for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis by suppressing autoimmune response. Earlier this year, Amgen and Xencor entered into an agreement to develop XmAb5871 giving Amgen the option to an exclusive worldwide license following the completion of a pre-defined Phase 2 study.

Another Phase 2b lupus trial just completed enrollment with the PEARL-SC study from the biopharmaceutical company Anthera. The large randomized, double-blind Phase 2b study will evaluate the efficacy, safety, and tolerability of blisibimod administration in 540 lupus patients in 11 countries and 72 clinical sites worldwide. 

Noteworthy, too, is the new partnership between Pfizer and genomics company deCode to search for variations in the genome that increase the risk of getting lupus. The work could lead to new biological targets for drug development and help researchers develop companion diagnostics to select patients most likely to benefit from certain therapies. 

The profusion of news reflects the solid knowledge base which the Lupus Research Institute is proud to have helped fuel that is now propelling forward new drug development and the search for a cure.