April 01, 2020

Advances in autoimmune disease

A few key highlights

When your immune system is healthy, it works to defend your body against infection and disease. If a foreign substance, such as a virus, is detected, your immune system produces certain proteins, including antibodies, designed to coordinate the cells of the immune system to destroy the invading threat.

But when the immune system malfunctions, immune cells and antibodies may take on different targets — healthy cells and tissues. This results in autoimmune diseases. Many types of cells or tissues can be the focus of such attacks — including the joints, nerves, skin and other organs — and researchers have identified more than 80 autoimmune diseases. They include many well-known conditions such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.

Recent years have brought about significant advances in how autoimmune diseases are understood and treated. Here are some of the highlights.

New options for lupus

With systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the immune system may attack many body systems, including the joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs. The effects of lupus are often widespread in the body (systemic), making effective treatment challenging.

Several drugs for lupus are expected to be filed for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval in 2020. One is anifrolumab, a new drug for moderate to severe SLE that's shown to improve overall disease activity and skin disease. Another is voclosporin, a drug for lupusrelated kidney disease (lupus nephritis) that may achieve complete remission of the disease when combined with standard treatments.

Another drug already approved for SLE — belimumab (Benlysta) —...