FDA Approves Belimumab for Children With Lupus Nephritis

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved belimumab (Benlysta) for treating active lupus nephritis (LN) in children aged 5–17 years. The drug can now be used to treat adult and pediatric patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and LN. The decision expands therapeutic options for the estimated 1.5 million Americans currently living with lupus.

“This approval marks a significant step forward in providing treatment options to these children at risk of incurring kidney damage early on in life,” Stevan W. Gibson, president and CEO of the Lupus Foundation of America, said in a press release issued by manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline. LN is a condition that sometimes develops in people with lupus. In LN, the autoimmune cells produced by the disease attack the kidney. Roughly 40% of people with SLE experience LN, according to previous reporting by Medscape Medical News.

Damage to the kidneys causes the body to have difficulty processing waste and toxins. This can create a host of problems, including end-stage kidney disease, which may be treated only with dialysis or kidney transplant. These situations significantly increase mortality among people with lupus, especially children.

Prior to the approval, the only treatment pathway for children with active LN included immunosuppressants and corticosteroids. While they may be effective, use of these classes of drugs may come with many side effects, including susceptibility to other diseases and infections. Belimumab, by contrast, is a B-lymphocyte stimulator protein inhibitor. It inhibits the survival of B cells, which are thought to play a role in the disease’s pathophysiology.

Belimumab was first approved to treat patients with SLE in 2011. It was approved for children with SLE 8 years later. The drug’s indications were expanded to include adults with LN in 2020.

Organizations within the lupus research community have communicated their support of the FDA’s decision. “Our community has much to celebrate with the approval of the first and much-needed treatment for children with lupus nephritis,” said Lupus Research Alliance President and CEO Kenneth M. Farber in a release from the organization.

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