BACKGROUND. Primary Sjögren's syndrome (pSS) is characterized by B cell hyperactivity and elevated B-lymphocyte stimulator (BLyS). Anti-BLyS treatment (e.g., belimumab) increases peripheral memory B cells; decreases naive, activated, and plasma B cell subsets; and increases stringency on B cell selection during reconstitution. Anti-CD20 therapeutics (e.g., rituximab) bind and deplete CD20-expressing B cells in circulation but are less effective in depleting tissue-resident CD20+ B cells. Combined, these 2 mechanisms may achieve synergistic effects. METHODS. This 68-week, phase II, double-blind study (GSK study 201842) randomized 86 adult patients with active pSS to 1 of 4 arms: placebo, s.c. belimumab, i.v. rituximab, or sequential belimumab + rituximab. RESULTS. Overall, 60 patients completed treatment and follow-up until week 68. The incidence of adverse events (AEs) and drug-related AEs was similar across groups. Infections/infestations were the most common AEs, and no serious infections of special interest occurred. Near-complete depletion of minor salivary gland CD20+ B cells and a greater and more sustained depletion of peripheral CD19+ B cells were observed with belimumab + rituximab versus monotherapies. With belimumab + rituximab, reconstitution of peripheral B cells occurred, but it was delayed compared with rituximab. At week 68, mean (± standard error) total EULAR Sjögren's syndrome disease activity index scores decreased from 11.0 (1.17) at baseline to 5.0 (1.27) for belimumab + rituximab and 10.4 (1.36) to 8.6 (1.57) for placebo. CONCLUSION. The safety profile of belimumab + rituximab in pSS was consistent with the monotherapies. Belimumab + rituximab induced enhanced salivary gland B cell depletion relative to the monotherapies, potentially leading to improved clinical outcomes.
We are grateful to all trial participants, investigators, and site personnel for their participation and commitment. We thank Charlotte Smith and Saba Nayar for providing histology support. Medical writing support was provided by Helen Taylor, of Fishawack Indicia Ltd., part of Fishawack Health, and was funded by GSK.
© 2022, Mariette et al. This is an open access article published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.