Queens man among first to get newly approved treatment

Elijah White of Far Rockaway, Queens, was only 26 when he was diagnosed with lupus nephritis, a complication of lupus that causes the immune system to turn against the kidneys. It started with extreme fatigue, a rash, and blood in his urine.

"I was on many different medications, none of them worked," he said. "I did steroid treatment as well. The daily pains that you go through you feel like an older person."

With help from his doctor, he enrolled in the clinical trial for Benlysta, a monoclonal antibody that was approved in 2011 for lupus but originally excluded patients with severe kidney disease.

"I was actually very excited about it because I thought what do I have to lose," White said.

Dr. Richard Furie, chief of the division of rheumatology at Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research at Northwell Health, was the global principal investigator on the trial. The outcome was a success and recently led to the FDA approving the drug for patients with lupus nephritis like Elijah.

"It's a big deal and it's hopefully just the beginning and we'll see more drug approvals," he said.

Experts like Furie call this treatment advance historic as it was the first drug to be approved for this indication.

Lupus nephritis all too often leads to end-stage kidney disease, dialysis, or a kidney transplant. But for Elijah, who receives the drug through an IV once a month, those outcomes are less of a worry.

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