Treating systemic lupus erythematosus in the 21st century: new drugs and new perspectives on old drugs

Rheumatology (Oxford). 2020 Dec 5;59(Suppl5):v69-v81. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/keaa403.


Besides treating acute flares, the management of SLE should aim at preventing organ damage accrual and drug-associated harms, improving health-related quality of life and prolonging survival. At present, therapy is based on combinations of antimalarials (mainly HCQ), considered the backbone of SLE treatment, glucocorticoids and immunosuppressive drugs. However, these regimens are not universally effective and a substantial degree of damage can be caused by exposure to glucocorticoids. In this review we provide a critical appraisal of the efficacy and safety of available treatments as well as a brief discussion of potentially novel compounds in patients with SLE. We emphasize the use of methylprednisolone pulses for moderate-severe flares, followed by low-moderate doses of oral prednisone with quick tapering to maintenance doses of ≤5 mg/day, as well as the prompt institution of immunosuppressive drugs in the setting of severe disease but also as steroid-sparing agents. Indications for the use of biologic agents, namely belimumab and rituximab, in refractory or organ-threatening disease are also presented. We conclude by proposing evidence- and experience-based treatment strategies tailored to the clinical scenario and prevailing organ involvement that can aid clinicians in managing this complex disease.

Keywords: HCQ; antimalarials; biologics; damage; glucocorticoids; immunosuppressives; lupus nephritis; methylprednisolone; prednisone.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / therapeutic use
  • Antimalarials / adverse effects
  • Antimalarials / therapeutic use
  • Glucocorticoids / adverse effects
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / adverse effects
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / drug therapy*
  • Rituximab / therapeutic use
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antimalarials
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Rituximab
  • belimumab