Researchers find new therapy for vasculitis

The Los Angeles Times—July 14, 2010

Forty years after the development of the only therapy for vasculitis, a rare but severe disease of blood vessels, researchers have found a new therapy that is at least as effective, requires fewer treatments and promises far fewer side effects. Federally-funded researchers reported Wednesday that treatment with the biotech drug rituximab, already marketed as Rituxan for the treatment of B cell lymphoma and rheumatoid arthritis, is slightly more effective than the existing drug, cyclophosphamide, at inducing remission from vasculitis and significantly more effective at inducing remission when the disease has relapsed.

"The reason this is a big deal is that this is a disease where people would come in and be told, 'Listen, we are probably going to be able to get on top of your life-threatening disease by using cyclophosphamide, but you are going to have major side effects down the road from this drug,'" Dr. Robert Spiera of Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, said in a statement. Spiera is a coauthor of the report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Side effects of cyclophosphamide can include infections, infertility and cancer.

Vasculitis is an inflammation of small to medium-sized blood vessels caused by the attack of antibodies on immune cells called neutrophils. The two main forms of this disease, autoimmune vasculitis and Wegener's granulomatosis, are so-called rare or orphan diseases that affect fewer than 6,000 Americans. Forty years ago, more than 90% of patients diagnosed with the diseases could expect to die within three years.

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