And, that's what the current study was designed to assess. It included 227 people with lupus nephritis, ranging in age from 12 to 75 years old. One hundred and sixteen were randomly assigned to maintenance treatment with mycophenolate mofetil and 111 were assigned to receive azathioprine.
Aranow explained that lupus nephritis is classified as an "orphan disease," a term used to describe diseases that affect only small numbers of individuals, which makes getting large numbers of people into clinical trials very difficult.
The researchers found that treatment failure occurred in 32.4 percent of people who were taking azathioprine versus 16.4 percent of those taking mycophenolate mofetil. Flare-ups of kidney disease activity occurred in 23.4 percent of those taking azathioprine and 12.9 percent of those on mycophenolate mofetil, according to the study.
Both groups had significant side effects, including minor infections and gastrointestinal disorders. But, serious adverse events were more common in people taking azathioprine compared to those on mycophenolate -- 33.3 percent versus 23.5 percent, respectively.
The study was initially funded by Aspreva Pharmaceuticals, in collaboration with Roche Pharmaceuticals. Roche produces CellCept, which is U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved for people who've had an organ transplant. Aspreva's agreement with Roche allowed them to seek approval of CellCept specifically for the treatment of lupus nephritis, according to Dooley. During the course of the study, Aspreva went out of business and was acquired by Vifor Pharmaceuticals. Vifor continued funding the study.
Dooley said that right now mycophenolate mofetil is only available as CellCept, and is more expensive than azathioprine. But, she added,
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