All incurable diseases rely on the management of symptoms to make life bearable, and that certainly applies to lupus. This autoimmune disease, which attacks your joints and organs, skin and heart, is one of the most difficult to control.
Traditionally, anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, and immunosuppressants were the treatments of choice, and they still have a solid place in the lupus lineup, but there’s a new treatment on the roster — biologics.
Dr. Reinhard Kage and Dr. Barbara Kage at Rheumatology and Allergy Institute of Connecticut in Manchester and Middletown, Connecticut, specialize in diagnosing and treating lupus, and they understand the benefits of biologics for those suffering from this condition. Here’s what you need to know.
What are biologics?
Unlike traditional drugs that are manufactured using synthesized chemicals, biologics are derived from living organisms or components of living organisms. This could mean they come from microorganisms, or human or animal cells or tissues.
Biologics aren’t new. In fact, you’re already familiar with a few types of biologics, including vaccines and allergy shots.
But that’s just the tip of the biologics iceberg. Biologics also encompass other treatments, such as blood and blood components, tissues, proteins, cells, hormones, and genes, all developed and administered with the same goal of changing your cellular reactions.
One of the main differences between regular drugs and biologics is that a chemically synthesized drug has a known structure that can be analyzed and replicated. But biologics, by contrast, are based on living organisms that can’t be easily characterized or identified due to their changing nature.
Biologics and lupus
A healthy immune system includes white blood cells called lymphocytes. Lymphocytes contain both T cells and B cells that attack antigens that infect your body. When you have lupus, your T cells and B cells become hyperactive and turn their attack on your own cells.
The role of biologics in lupus treatment is to interfere with that self-destruction and calm down your B cells and T cells. There are many biologics at various stages of clinical trial that may be beneficial for treating lupus; some are already being used to successfully treat other conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, and others are still in the early stages of testing.
The first biologic to receive FDA approval for the treatment of lupus symptoms is belimumab (brand name: Benlysta®). This biologic inhibits a protein in your body called the B lymphocyte stimulator, or BLyS. This is one of the main culprits that attacks your healthy tissues, so controlling your BLyS means controlling the damage.
Benlysta tends to perform best when used in conjunction with other traditional medications like NSAIDs and immunosuppressants, but it may help you reduce your need for corticosteroids, which is important since corticosteroids used long term can lead to organ damage and bone loss.
Are biologics right for you?
If you’re curious about adding biologics to your lupus treatment, it’s best to come in and talk to our experts. While most otherwise healthy patients can use biologics such as Benlysta, it’s not recommended if you’re:
- Have recently received a vaccination
- Have had cancer
- Have heart disease
- Are allergic to certain medications
- Are taking other biologics
Our team evaluates your current and past health and asks you questions related to all issues that may disqualify you as a candidate for biologics. If we determine that biologics may benefit you, we begin your treatment with an infusion here in our office, which takes about an hour. You will have to return for additional infusions to keep your treatment going.
In 2017, the FDA approved a self-injection formula, so if you’d rather administer your biologic yourself, we can train you.
Our team can let you know about any side effects to watch for as well as how to determine if biologics are working well.
To learn more about biologics for lupus, schedule an appointment by phone or online — there may be a new way to live with lupus.