Chinese Foundation & GlaxoSmithKline Team Invest to Support Lupus Patients in China

GlaxoSmithKline and China Primary Healthcare Foundation have joined forces to help launch China’s first patient-assistance program offering drug availability for patients in need with systematic lupus erythematosus. A smart move from the venerable Anglo-Drug Giant.

Systematic Lupus Erythematosus

An auto-immune disease, systematic lupus erythematosus (SLE) can cause damage to the kidneys, cardiovascular system, lungs, eyes, and digestive tract. Over 1 million people battle the disease in China, representing 25% of the patient population worldwide. The predominant patient age range is between 15 and 45. A lifelong disease, treatment can only control symptoms, reduce relapses and the side effects of medication all in the quest to improve patient quality of life. There is no cure.

Renji Hospital Participates

Dr. Lu Liangjing of Renji Hospital notes “Most patients are women at child-bearing age. Medications developed over the past 60 years resulted in side effects. Under current treatment, about 60% of patients still suffer frequent relapse over 50% suffers organ damage.” 

Costly in China

The costs in China for treatment tend to be high. TrialSite News has written about China’s challenged health system-based on severe regional inequities (e.g. wealthy east and poor rural west). Treatment for the disease costs patients in Shanghai last year at about US$4,782—more than most working class can afford. This is despite the fact that it is a socialist-based country and at least in theory there would be egalitarian-based health access this is not the case in China. In fact market forces increasingly dictate health care access.

Hu Ningning with China Primary Healthcare Foundation noted for Shine News that “Many patients are in financial crisis due to the disease and some have to quit taking medication due to the expense.”

Enter Anglo Pharma Giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)

UK-based GSK has stepped into collaboration with the Chinese Foundation on a charity program aimed to offer innovative medicines to needy SLE patients. The program has extensive coverage: 100 hospitals in 20 cities. Eligible patients will submit applications at one of these hospitals to receive a new biological medicine approved by China’s FDA in July. This initiative offers tremendous brand positioning potential for the drugmaker.


Approved by China FDA this summer, the program involves Benlysta (belimumab), the world’s first SLE biologic therapy. The drug is indicated for intravenous (IV) use as add-on therapy in adult patients with SLE.

Previously known as LymphoStat-B, it is a human monoclonal antibody that inhibits B-cell activating factor (BAFF). It is approved in the U.S., Canada, and Europe to treat SLE and again was approved in China over the summer.

Discovery Roots

The B-cell activating factor is a naturally occurring protein that was uncovered by researchers at National Jewish Health and the University of Colorado. The same protein was named BAFF in another paper in 1999 and in another research paper, Human Genome Sciences (HGS) referred to it as BLyS (short for B lymphocyte stimulator). By 2000, HGS and Cambridge Antibody Technology (CAT) agreed to co-development activities targeting BLyS. By 2006 HGS and GSK entered into a co-development and commercialization deal under which HGS would conduct Phase III trials for belimumab with support from GSK. The two partnered to drive through clinical trials. In 2012 GSK acquired HGS.

Call to Action: Interested to learn how this program is going. TrialSite News making a visit to China and will be tracking. Sign up for our newsletter.