MELBOURNE (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Multidisciplinary management of comorbidities is one of the most important aspects of the care of patients with lupus nephritis, Frédéric Houssiau, MD, PhD, said at an international congress on systemic lupus erythematosus.

In his presentation describing his top 10 tips for the management of lupus nephritis, Dr. Houssiau said traditional risk factors do not explain the two- to threefold higher risk of cardiovascular disease in patients with lupus, making it important to address known cardiovascular disease risk factors.

“So we should be spending time to tell our patients that they should stop smoking, they should undergo weight reduction, of course treat hypertension and LDL cholesterol with statins,” said Dr. Houssiau , head of the rheumatology department at the Cliniques Universitaires Saint-Luc and professor of rheumatology at the Université Catholique de Louvain, both in Brussels.

Dr. Houssiau also stressed the importance of paying attention to clotting disorders, preventing glucocorticoid-related intraocular pressure, ensuring patients are immunized against influenza, and enabling patient access to an intensive care unit in the event of severe sepsis.

He also called for physicians to “unmask” nonadherence to therapy, saying it was the most common cause of treatment failure.

“We don’t look enough to nonadherence to therapy, and we have no good clue to sort that out,” he said in an interview. “We can identify nonadherent patients, but it’s very difficult to change their mind, to make them adherent, and we have nurses, nurse-practitioners, questionnaires for adherence, but none of them, I think, so far have changed practice.”

Dr. Houssiau argued for the importance of having a good connection with a nephrologist and always performing a renal biopsy in patients with lupus nephritis.

“The reason for that is first to identify the immune deposits, either mesangial or subendothelial or subepithelial, and another reason is clearly not to miss the antiphospholipid syndrome,” he told the audience. “The third very good reason to perform the renal biopsy is clearly to classify the patient.”

Echoing other presentations at the conference, Dr. Houssiau said there was a need to define treatment targets in lupus nephritis.

“In diabetes, in hypertension, in rheumatoid arthritis, the target is well known by all of us,” he said. “What is the target that we should achieve in the lupus nephritis patient? That is much more difficult.”

He cited data from the recent MAINTAIN trial, which suggested that proteinuria levels at 12 months after initiation of treatment were highly predictive of patients who were likely to have a good renal prognosis. Patients with a 24-hour proteinuria level of around 0.7-0.8 g/day had a significantly greater likelihood of normal serum creatinine 7 years later, he said.

“Yet, we need more, we need better markers, because the negative predictive value is very bad, which means that a lot of patients who do not reach that target still, fortunately, will end up without renal failure.”

Dr. Houssiau also emphasized the need to minimize the use of steroids where possible, as data from an inception cohort run by him and his colleagues have shown that patients who failed to taper down to 4 mg of prednisone or less, after 1 year, had significantly more damage accrual.

He also advocated using either mycophenolate mofetil or intravenous cyclophosphamide as induction therapy based on data suggesting the two are equally efficacious at 6 months. Dr. Houssiau suggested favoring intravenous cyclophosphamide if fertility was a concern because it has been shown to not affect ovarian reserve and has the added advantage of better compliance.

Maintaining immunosuppression is also vital, Dr. Houssiau told the conference, and patients should be treated with immunosuppressants for at least 5, and possibly even up to 10, years.

“There is a small study showing an inverse correlation between the length of therapy and remission on the one hand, and risk of relapse, so the more you treat, the more the period of remission is long, the lower risk of relapse,” he said. However, there are little trial data on withdrawing immunosuppression or trials of immunosuppressant withdrawal, he noted.

Commenting on the future prospects for new treatments for lupus nephritis, Dr. Houssiau advised keeping faith in targeted therapies and precision medicine despite a slew of failed phase III clinical trials, and watching the development of calcineurin inhibitors, such as voclosporin.

Dr. Houssiau declared receiving research grants and honoraria from AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Lilly, Roche, Serono, and UCB.