Objectives: Lupus nephritis (LN) is a serious complication of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). All current treatment regimens include oral steroids, which are associated with severe adverse events and long-term damage. We have piloted a steroid-avoiding protocol (rituxilup) for the treatment of biopsy-proven active International Society of Nephrology/Renal Pathology Society (ISN/RPS) class III, IV, or class V LN.
Methods: We report the findings from the first 50 consecutive patients, treated with 2 doses of rituximab (1 g) and methyl prednisolone (500 mg) on days 1 and 15, and maintenance treatment of mycophenolate mofetil. Patients on maintenance steroids or with life-threatening SLE or requiring dialysis were excluded. Renal remission was defined as serum creatinine no greater than 15% above baseline; complete biochemical remission (CR) was defined as urine protein : creatinine ratio (PCR)<50 mg/mmol or partial remission (PR) if PCR>50 mg/mmol but non-nephrotic and >50% reduction.
Results: A total of 45 (90%) patients achieved CR or PR by a median time of 37 weeks (range 4-200). Overall, 72% (n=36) achieved CR (median time 36 weeks (11-58)) and a further 18% (n=9) achieved persistent PR (median time 32 weeks (19-58)). By 52 weeks, CR and PR had been achieved in 52% (n=26) and 34% (n=17) respectively. In all, 12 relapses occurred in 11 patients, at a median time of 65.1 weeks (20-112) from remission. A total of 6/50 patients had systemic flares. Of the 45 responders, only 2 required >2 weeks of oral steroids. Adverse events were infrequent; 18% were admitted, 10% for an infective episode.
Conclusions: The rituxilup cohort demonstrates that oral steroids can be safely avoided in the treatment of LN. If findings are confirmed, it could mark a step change in the approach to the treatment of LN.
Keywords: B cells; Corticosteroids; Lupus Nephritis; Treatment.