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Clinic for Lupus Patients Opens at Strong

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

            Strong Health has opened a new clinic focusing on patients with lupus. The clinic brings together resources that have already made Strong doctors known around the world for the research and treatment of lupus, and marks the beginning of a registry of patients that researchers will turn to as they seek to discover better treatments.

            Doctors at Strong’s Allergy, Immunology, Rheumatology (AIR) Unit, headed by Ignacio Sanz, M.D., follow about 800 patients throughout western New York who have symptoms of lupus. The new clinic is designed to streamline care of these patients and to serve as a base to compile the registry.

            Creation of the clinic comes at an exciting team for lupus researchers and patients. Strong physicians have just found that the drug rituximab, approved to treat lymphoma, appears to be effective at treating lupus, but they say research with more patients is needed to confirm the results. Doctors compare today’s treatment of lupus to where treatment of rheumatoid arthritis stood about 10 years ago. Then, doctors were just beginning to test out several new drugs that targeted specific proteins in the body that are at the core of that disease. Since then, several new drugs have become available to treat rheumatoid arthritis – the drugs are much more effective, with fewer side effects, than earlier medications.

            “There are a lot of potential treatments for lupus in the pipeline,” says rheumatologist R. John Looney, M.D., one of three physicians who will see patients in the clinic. “The current results offer a great deal of promise for patients. There’s a lot of excitement among researchers.”

            Looney has teamed with Sanz and Jennifer Anolik, M.D., Ph.D., to create the clinic at the unit’s Clinton Crossings site on Westfall Road. The trio comprises one of the world’s top resources for lupus expertise, ranging from practical information for patients to the very basics of how the disease begins in the body. The team’s expertise has already made Strong one of 26 centers in the nation that make up the Lupus Clinical Trials Consortium, where patients have access to experimental treatments. And one year ago, the medical center was named an Autoimmunity Center of Excellence by the National Institutes of Health, with lupus one of three diseases to be studied by two dozen researchers.

            The group is working closely with rheumatologists throughout western New York to create the registry, which will be used to get information to patients as well as help doctors pursue new research. The team hopes to have 1,000 lupus patients in the registry – a large enough number to make large, systematic studies possible for doctors evaluating new treatments.

            “We really don’t have adequate treatments for lupus right now,” says Looney. “To develop new treatments, we need enough patients to get these studies done. Patients and physicians throughout the area have been extremely helpful and willing to take part, and we’re very thankful.”

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