GlaxoSmithKline aims to pump up Benlysta with new vasculitis use

How can GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) jump-start Benlysta? Apparently by developing the lupus drug as a treatment for an entirely different disease. The drugmaker said it has launched a Phase III study of the drug in patients with a type of vasculitis.

Glaxo has had high hopes for Benlysta, developed in partnership with Human Genome Sciences. The company spent $3 billion last year to buy HGS, gaining full control of the drug. It's the first new treatment for lupus in decades, but it's been slow to catch on, and adding a new indication could open up its prospects.

The study will test Benlysta in combination with the transplant drug azathioprine, in patients with ANCA-associated Vasculitis. It's an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation of the blood vessels, disrupting blood flow and potentially damaging organs.

Azathioprine is an immunosupressive also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and, yes, lupus. Glaxo sells the drug under the brand name Imuran, but generics are available.

Despite early enthusiasm, Benlysta managed to rack up just $106 million in sales last year. Skeptical cost-effectiveness watchdogs in U.K. and Germany hampered its progress, and HGS laid off workers last year to account for lagging sales. GSK apparently still believes the drug could be a big seller. It just needs to figure out how.

- see the GSK release

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