New Lupus drug endorsed by FDA Advisory Board

By Kristin Gold  - bio | email | Twitter

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - Antoinette Whatley has had lupus since 2006. This Thursday she returned home from the Emory hospital after a two week stay.

"They said the lupus had flared back up on me, got to my kidneys," explained Whatley.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease where the body cannot tell the difference between good cells and bad. The potentially fatal illness has a vast range of symptoms, including joint pain, extreme fatigue, tissue inflammation, skin rashes and organ failure.

"Lupus is painful, it's annoying, you never know when a flare up is going to come up and it interrupts your whole life," said Richelle Gonzalez, a 19 year old college student with Lupus.

But, help may be on the way. Earlier this week an FDA advisory panel endorsed the drug Benlysta in a 13-2 vote. Benlysta is the first drug developed specifically for lupus in 5 decades. Currently lupus patients take a cocktail of drugs to treat the symptoms but not the lupus itself.

"Currently I'm taking four medications, one IV medication it's like a chemotherapy drug and it makes you very ill," Gonzalez said.

"I take pain medicine, steroids, iron pills and taking chemo," added Whatley.

Instead, Benlysta is a once a month infusion that helps inhibit the antibodies that cause disease activity. Benlysta was deemed successful in decreasing symptoms in two clinical studies with little to no side effects.

For a disease in which very little is understood, the news and potential of Benlysta gives patients a little more hope.

"I want to get better, for my kids," Whatley said. "Because they need me right now."

Benlysta has been fast-tracked for FDA approval. A final decision is expected by December 9, and the drug could be on the market in the spring of 2011.

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