Baseline predictors of systemic lupus erythematosus flares: data from the combined placebo groups in the phase III belimumab trials

Arthritis Rheum. 2013 Aug;65(8):2143-53. doi: 10.1002/art.37995.


Objective: To identify predictors of moderate-to-severe systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) flare in 562 patients treated with standard therapy alone in phase III belimumab trials, and to evaluate the impact of standard therapies on preventing flares.

Methods: Post hoc analysis assessed baseline demographics, disease activity, and biomarkers in patients with and those without flare at treatment weeks 24 and 52. Severe flare was defined by the modified SLE Flare Index (SFI) and the development of any new British Isles Lupus Assessment Group (BILAG) A domain score. Severe and moderate flare was defined by development of 1 new BILAG A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scores. Baseline characteristics associated with a ≥10% absolute difference or a ≥50% increase in flare rates were considered predictive.

Results: Frequencies of flares over 52 weeks according to the SFI, any new BILAG A domain score, and 1 new BILAG A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scores were 23.7%, 23.1%, and 32.0%, respectively. Flare predictors by univariate analysis on all 3 indices at weeks 24 and 52 were a score ≥12 on the Safety of Estrogens in Lupus Erythematosus National Assessment version of the SLE Disease Activity Index (SELENA-SLEDAI); anti-double-stranded DNA (anti-dsDNA) positivity; proteinuria (≥0.5 gm/24 hours); BILAG renal, vasculitic, and hematologic scores; elevated C-reactive protein levels; and B lymphocyte stimulator (BLyS) levels ≥2 ng/ml. Independent predictors by multivariate analysis at week 52 were SELENA-SLEDAI and/or BILAG renal involvement and anti-dsDNA ≥200 IU/ml (on all 3 indices); SELENA-SLEDAI and/or BILAG neurologic and vasculitic involvement (on 2 indices: any new BILAG A domain score and 1 new BILAG A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scores); BLyS levels ≥2 ng/ml (on 2 indices: the SFI and 1 new BILAG A domain score or 2 new BILAG B domain scores); and low C3 level (on the SFI). Baseline medications did not significantly decrease or increase moderate-to-severe SLE flare risk.

Conclusion: Patients who were receiving standard SLE therapy and had renal, neurologic, or vasculitic involvement, elevated anti-dsDNA or BLyS levels, or low C3 had increased risk of clinically meaningful flare over 1 year. Hydroxychloroquine use was not predictive.

Trial registration: NCT00410384 NCT00424476.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase III
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Antinuclear / blood
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / therapeutic use
  • B-Cell Activating Factor / blood
  • Complement C3 / analysis
  • DNA / immunology
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / blood
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / complications
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / drug therapy
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / pathology*
  • Lupus Nephritis / complications
  • Lupus Nephritis / pathology
  • Lupus Vasculitis, Central Nervous System / complications
  • Lupus Vasculitis, Central Nervous System / pathology
  • Male
  • Placebos / therapeutic use*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prednisolone / therapeutic use
  • Severity of Illness Index


  • Antibodies, Antinuclear
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • B-Cell Activating Factor
  • Complement C3
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Placebos
  • belimumab
  • DNA
  • Prednisolone

Associated data