New Coalition Aims to Revolutionize Stalled Lupus Research

Clinical research into lupus has long been hampered by failures of medications that initially seemed promising. Now, a coalition of drugmakers, federal regulators, and activists has come together to forge a path toward better-designed studies and – potentially – groundbreaking new drugs.

“We have an opportunity to work collaboratively in lupus to address the challenges in drug development,” Teodora Staeva, PhD, vice president and chief scientific officer of the Lupus Research Alliance, said in an interview.

The alliance held a press conference on March 29 to announce the formation of the public-private Lupus Accelerating Breakthroughs Consortium. Coalition members include several major drugmakers, lupus organizations such as the LRA, the American College of Rheumatology, the Food and Drug Administration, and other federal agencies. Academic researchers, people living with lupus, caregivers and family members, and other members of the lupus community are also on board.

As Dr. Staeva explained, research into lupus has been marked by a high rate of failure. “Often, phase 2 trial successes have not translated into phase 3 successes,” she said.

But researchers, she said, don’t tend to think this is because the drugs themselves are useless.

Instead, it appears that “trial designs are not adequate to capture meaningful readouts of the drug effects, and that may have contributed to the multiple failures,” she said.

According to her, this may because the trials aren’t yet designed to fully detect whether drugs are useful. This is difficult to accomplish since patients have so many manifestations of the disease and trial participants already take a variety of existing drugs.

“Another major limitation has been the lack of integration of the patient’s voice and needs in the drug development process,” she said. It’s also challenging to recruit patients with the most severe lupus to participate in studies, especially since the trials often last 52 weeks.

The new coalition will not directly develop or favor specific drugs. Instead, it will focus on clinical research priorities. “It’s all open and collaborative,” Dr. Staeva explained, and a patient council will provide input. “We have a unique opportunity to bring the voice of people [living with lupus] to the table for the first time and be able to integrate their needs and priorities into the infrastructure.”

The new coalition was inspired by existing public-private partnerships such as the Kidney Health Initiative, she said. That initiative was founded in 2012 by the FDA and the American Society of Nephrology and has dozens of members, including multiple drugmakers and medical societies.

The leadership of the Lupus ABC coalition will include three nonvoting members from the FDA. They’ll offer guidance, Dr. Staeva said. At the press conference, Albert T. Roy, president and CEO of the LRA, said drug companies will appreciate the opportunity to speak with FDA representatives “in a space that is not competitive with respect to intellectual property or anything like that.”

The coalition will meet later in spring 2023, Dr. Staeva said. She hopes it will launch a couple of projects by the end of 2023 and be able to release preliminary results by the end of 2024.

One challenge will be figuring out how to stratify trial subjects so drug studies will more easily detect medications that may work in smaller populations of patients, Hoang Nguyen, PhD, director of scientific partnerships at the LRA, said in an interview. “Now we lump [patients] all together, and that’s not the optimal way to test drugs on patients who have a lot of differences.”

According to Dr. Staeva, the LRA funded the development of the coalition, and drugmakers will primarily provide financial support going forward. The pharmaceutical company members of the coalition are Biogen, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, EMD Serono, Genentech, Gilead, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, and Takeda.

Dr. Staeva, Dr. Nguyen, and Mr. Roy have no disclosures.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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