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B cell depletion therapy in systemic lupus erythematosus: long-term follow-up and predictors of response


Objectives: To describe the long-term clinical outcome and safety profile of B cell depletion therapy (BCDT) in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). It was also determined whether baseline parameters can predict the likelihood of disease flare.

Methods: 32 patients with refractory SLE were treated with BCDT using a combination protocol (rituximab and cyclo-phosphamide). Patients were assessed with the British Isles Lupus Assessment Group (BILAG) activity index, and baseline serology was measured. Flare was defined as a new BILAG ‘A’ or two new subsequent ‘B’s in any organ system.

Results: Of the 32 patients, 12 have remained well after one cycle of BCDT (median follow-up 39 months). BCDT was followed by a decrease of median global BILAG scores from 13 to 5 at 6 months (p = 0.006). Baseline anti-extractable nuclear antigen (ENA) was the only identified independent predictor of flare post-BCDT (p = 0.034, odds ratio = 8, 95% CI 1.2 to 55) from multivariable analysis. Patients with low baseline serum C3 had a shorter time to flare post-BCDT (p = 0.008). Four serious adverse events were observed.

Conclusion: Autoantibody profiling may help identify patients who will have a more sustained response. Although the long-term safety profile of BCDT is favourable, ongoing vigilance is recommended.

  • BCDT, B cell depletion therapy
  • BILAG, British Isles Lupus Assessment Group
  • CyC, cyclophosphamide
  • dsDNA, double-stranded DNA
  • ENA, extractable nuclear antigen
  • PCR, protein creatinine ratio
  • SLE, systemic lupus erythematosus
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