Organ Transplant Drug Controls Lupus Symptoms

The drug CellCept (search) works in controlling lupus symptoms, yet with few short-term side effects, research shows.

CellCept is approved for preventing organ transplant rejection (search) and is known to work for patients who have kidney damage from lupus (search).

However, a new study shows it holds great promise in relieving lupus symptoms for the broader numbers of patients without kidney problems.

Lupus is an immune system disease that causes fevers, joint pain, excessive fatigue, and in severe cases, major organ damage, especially to the kidneys. There is no cure for lupus.

Like many lupus drugs that work by suppressing the immune system, CellCept increases the risk of infection and the possible development of lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes.

A group of researchers at the Mayo Clinic performed a six-month study involving 17 patients with lupus. At the study's end, 11 patients had a significant improvement in lupus symptoms, four had a partial improvement in lupus symptoms, and two had no improvement in lupus symptoms, reports lead researcher Kevin G. Moder, MD, a rheumatologist with the Mayo Clinic.

Those who responded with an improvement in lupus symptoms were also able to decrease their dose of prednisone (search), an immune-suppressing drug commonly used to treat lupus symptoms.

Three patients withdrew from the study because of side effects from CellCept, one with a rash and two with nausea.

Moder presented his findings at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Scientific Meeting in San Antonio.

"This would be considered a nice addition to medications we can use for these patients -- an alternative and widely applicable to many patients," says Moder in a news release. "It's a significant step if the medication is effective but has fewer side effects" than current medications for lupus symptoms.

By Jeanie Lerche Davis; reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

SOURCE: American College of Rheumatology 2004 Annual Scientific Meeting, San Antonio, Oct. 16-21, 2004. New release, Mayo Clinic. Rxlist.