Benlysta (Belimumab) is a biologic medicine that is used to treat lupus. It works by suppressing part of the body’s immune system. Benlysta inhibits a type of signalling protein called a cytokine that works to activate a type of white blood cell called the B-cell.
Benlysta is given as an intravenous infusion (IV) by a trained nurse in a clinic.
Patients start by receiving an infusion on week 0, then week 2, and then every 4 weeks. Each infusion takes about 60 minutes.
Although some patients can feel better soon after receiving the medication, in others it can take longer. For some patients, it can take up to 3 or 4 months to start feeling the effects of Benlysta.
Important Tests and Risks
Benlysta can make it a bit harder for people to fight off infections. People taking this medicine should call their doctor they have a fever, think they have an infection, or have been prescribed antibiotics to treat an infection.
It is important for patients to coordinate with their doctor to stop treatment before any surgery. Benlysta can be re-started once things have healed and there’s no sign of infection.
Patients should discuss all vaccinations with their doctor because some are not advisable to get while taking this medication.
Drug Identification Number (DIN): 02370050 (IV), 02370069 (IV)
How Benlysta Works
Some people with lupus have too much protein called B-lympocyte stimulator or BLyS (sometimes pronounced as “Bliss”). It might also be called B-cell activating factor or BAFF.
BLyS can act sort of like a switch that “turns on” special immune system cells: a type of white blood cell called the B-cell (B-lymphocyte).
In lupus patients, B-cells can get confused and attack the body instead of only attacking foreign invaders like the bad germs that make people sick. Benlysta is a biologic medicine that blocks the activity of BLyS.
In blocking BLys, Benlysta suppresses the body’s immune system. Though this suppression can make it slightly harder for patients to fight off infections, it also helps to stabilize an overactive immune system and can help improve symptoms in people with lupus.
Side Effects of Benlysta
Patients should talk to their doctor if they are concerned about any side effects.
Because Benlysta (belimumab) suppresses part of the body’s immune system, it makes it slightly harder for patients to fight off infections. Patients should advise their doctor if they develop a fever, think they might have an infection, or are given antibiotics to treat an infection.
Some of Benlysta’s other potential side-effects include:
- Infusion reaction – Benlysta can rarely cause an allergic reaction during the infusion.
- Nausea & diarrhea – Some people feel unwell with nausea & vomiting when they take Benlysta. Benlysta can also cause diarrhea
- Headache – Benlysta can rarely cause a headache
- Heart problems – Patients should tell their doctor if they develop chest pain or shortness of breath
- Depression – Let your doctor know if you experience worsening depression or thoughts of suicide while taking Benlysta
- Malignancy – Very rare cases of cancer have been seen in patients receiving Benlysta. It is not known if Benlysta causes cancer. Tell your doctor if you have had cancer in the past.
Benlysta has not been studied for safety in pregnancy. Patients should tell their doctor if they are planning to get pregnant, get pregnant, or if they are breastfeeding.
Who Should NOT Take Benlysta
Patients who should NOT be taking Benlysta include:
- Patients who have had a previous serious allergic reaction to Benlysta (belimumab)
- Women who are pregnant, planning on becoming pregnant, or breast feeding
- Possibly patients who have cancer or have had a past history of certain cancers
Anyone who becomes pregnant while taking Benlysta should notify their doctor immediately.
When to Call a Doctor
People taking Benlysta should call their doctor if they feel sick and want to stop, or they are concerned about any side effects.
Other reasons to call a doctor while taking Benlysta include:
- Fever or possible infection
- If another doctor has prescribed antibiotics to fight an infection
- Before having surgery
- Planning to get any vaccinations
- Depression or suicidal thoughts