Patients with highly active lupus nephritis who took the investigational oral calcineurin inhibitor voclosporin plus mycophenolate mofetil and tapered corticosteroids were twice as likely to achieve complete remission by 24 weeks, compared against placebo-treated patients who also received standard of care treatment in a phase IIb study trial reported by Aurinia Pharmaceuticals.

The 24-week complete remission primary endpoint of the AURA-LV (Aurinia Urinary Protein Reduction Active–Lupus With Voclosporin) study – defined as a urine protein/creatinine ratio of 0.5 mg/mg or less as well as normal stable renal function (estimated glomerular filtration rate of 60 mL/min per 1.73 m2 or greater or no confirmed decrease from baseline in eGFR of 20% or greater) – occurred in 32.6% of patients who were randomized to take 23.7 mg of voclosporin twice daily, which was significantly higher than the 19.3% rate observed in the placebo-treated group. The rate was 27.3% in a higher-dose group that received 39.5 mg of voclosporin twice daily.

Serious adverse events occurred at higher rates in both voclosporin arms of the trial than in the placebo arm, but Aurinia said in its statement announcing the results that the nature of the events was consistent with highly active lupus nephritis. A total of 13 deaths occurred, including 2 in the high-dose arm, 10 in the low-dose arm, and 1 in the placebo arm, but the company said that the investigator deemed the deaths as unrelated to voclosporin. Eleven of the deaths occurred in Asia.

Both low- and high-dose voclosporin arms attained a partial response by 24 weeks (50% drop in urine protein per creatinine ratio) in a significantly higher percentage of patients than did the placebo arm (69.7% and 65.9%, respectively, vs. 49.4%).

The Lupus Research Alliance welcomed the results of the study but noted that more needs to be known about the risk-benefit profile of the drug, specifically in reference to the 12 deaths reported in those who took voclosporin. “The magnitude of benefit is quite striking and unprecedented in lupus nephritis, but the number of deaths is a concern that must be taken seriously. We are very hopeful that further analysis of the safety data will confirm that voclosporin can provide a safe and effective treatment,” Margaret G. Dowd, co–chief executive officer of the Lupus Research Alliance, said in a statement .

The trial enrolled and randomized 265 patients diagnosed with highly active lupus nephritis (according to clinical signs and renal biopsy features) across centers in more than 20 countries. Besides being randomized to either active treatment arm or placebo, all patients received mycophenolate mofetil (CellCept) and oral corticosteroids that started at 20-25 mg/daily and then tapered down to 5 mg daily by week 8 and 2.5 mg daily by week 16. All patients also had an initial 500-1,000 mg intravenous dose of steroids.

Aurinia said that the study will continue to 48 weeks, and these data will be available in early 2017.


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