This article is part of the supplement: B cells in autoimmune diseases: Part 2
B-cell depletion in SLE: clinical and trial experience with rituximab and ocrelizumab and implications for study design
1 Centre for Rheumatology, The Rayne Building, 4th Floor, Room 424, 5 University Street, London WC1E 6JF, UK
2 Department of Medicine, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Cambridge CB2 0QQ, UK
3 Inflammation and Autoimmunity, MedImmune Limited, Milstein Building, Granta Park, Cambridge CB21 6GH, UK
Arthritis Research & Therapy 2013, 15(Suppl 1):S2 doi:10.1186/ar3910Published: 11 February 2013
B cells are believed to be central to the disease process in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), making them a target for new therapeutic intervention. In recent years there have been many publications regarding the experience in SLE of B-cell depletion utilising rituximab, an anti-CD20 mAb that temporarily depletes B cells, reporting promising results in uncontrolled open studies and in routine clinical use. However, the two large randomised controlled trials in extra-renal lupus (EXPLORER study) and lupus nephritis (LUNAR study) failed to achieve their primary endpoints. Based on the clinical experience with rituximab this failure was somewhat unexpected and raised a number of questions and concerns, not only into the true level of benefit of B-cell depletion in a broad population but also how to test the true level of effectiveness of an investigational agent as we seek to improve the design of therapeutic trials in SLE. A better understanding of what went wrong in these trials is essential to elucidate the underlying reasons for the disparate observations noted in open studies and controlled trials. In this review, we focus on various factors that may affect the ability to accurately and confidently establish the level of treatment effect of the investigational agent, in this case rituximab, in the two studies and explore hurdles faced in the randomised controlled trials investigating the efficacy of ocrelizumab, the humanised anti-CD20 mAb, in SLE. Further, based on the lessons learned from the clinical trials, we make suggestions that could be implemented in future clinical trial design to overcome the hurdles faced.