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Cancer Drug Also Fights Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis

Immune-targeted rituximab shows good results in two trials

THURSDAY, June 9, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- The cancer drug rituximab may benefit lupus patients with central nervous system (CNS) complications, according to a new U.S. study.

"Rituximab appears to be quite effective. It is a kinder, gentler form of treatment lasting up to six months with a low risk of side effects, compared to previous treatments of high-dose steroids and chemotherapy," researcher Michael Neuwelt of the University of California, San Francisco and Stanford University, said in a prepared statement.

The small 16-month study included 22 patients. More than half of them received rituximab alone, others took the drug in combination with steroids, and a third group took the drug with the chemotherapy agent cyclophosphamide, the current standard treatment for severe CNS lupus.

Sixteen of the patients showed significant improvement and the condition of four others was stabilized, the study said. Brain scans revealed improvements in adverse changes caused by the disease.

Neuwelt stressed that randomized-controlled clinical trials still need to be conducted to determine the effectiveness of rituximab in treating CNS lupus. The findings were presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the European Congress of Rheumatology in Vienna, Austria.

Another study presented at the meeting found rituximab to be a safe and effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. The U.K. study, which included 465 men and women who had had arthritis for about 10 years, examined the effects of two doses of the drug.

"The results of the study's 24-week analysis showed that both doses of rituximab were highly effective, and significantly better than placebo. It seems that the higher of the two doses produced the best effects," Professor Paul Emery of the University of Leeds, said in a prepared statement.

Rituximab targets a specific type of immune cell and helps control inflammation and pain in arthritis patients.

More information

The Lupus Foundation of America has more about how lupus affects the nervous system.

SOURCE: European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology, news release, June 9, 2005
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