Emory Study Shows Reducing Immunosuppressant Medication for Kidney Transplant Patients is Possible

Date: Sep 17, 2020

Kidney transplant patients at Emory Transplant Center who were given medication to prevent organ rejection and strengthen their immune system every two months instead of monthly were found to be just as healthy, based on a clinical study.

The immunosuppressant drug called belatacept was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2011 and is produced by Bristol Myers Squibb. It inhibits one of the two signals that T cells need to trigger an immune response when the body perceives a threat. Emory doctors played key roles in the drug’s discovery and development.

The Benefits of Belatacept

Normally, after a kidney transplant, patients at Emory receive a combination of immunosuppressant medications for 12 to 18 months. If the patients are doing well, they graduate to a single drug—belatacept— that they receive monthly.

Belatacept is given by infusion in a doctor’s office. The treatment involves directly delivering the drug into a patient’s bloodstream through Intravenous (IV) therapy.

Previous research has shown that belatacept offers significant advantages over calcineurin inhibitors (CNIs), such as cyclosporine and tacrolimus, which had been the standard of care for kidney transplant patients. Long-term use of CNIs can cause kidney damage. The drugs can also contribute to cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Belatacept is not harmful to the kidneys. It actually helps preserve long-term kidney function. It’s also more effective in suppressing antibodies against the kidney, which are important causes of kidney loss.

In BENEFIT (Belatacept Evaluation of Nephroprotection and Efficacy as First-line Immunosuppression Trial), a seven-year, multi-center study in which Emory participated in, kidney transplant patients taking belatacept had a 43% reduction in death and loss of kidney function compared to those who were on the study’s cyclosporine treatment.

Half the Medication Produces the Same Results for Patients

In the new study, which began in 2015, Emory researchers looked at a group of kidney transplant patients who were recovering well after their surgery. They divided the participants into two groups. One group received belatacept every four weeks; the other received the drug every eight weeks.

Researchers finished their study late in the summer of 2019. Although they’re still evaluating the overall results, they found that patients got the same benefits from belatacept regardless of how often they received the medication.

Belatacept is in a class of drugs known as biologics. It’s made from living organisms. Experts believe patients can go longer periods of time between doses of these medications because their makeup helps them last longer. That was borne out in this study.

Findings Will Make Life Easier for Kidney Transplant Patients

For kidney transplant patients, the findings of the recent research are significant. If patients require just six infusions each year, rather than the 12 infusions we currently give:

  • They can have fewer office visits, which will simplify their care and make life easier for them
  • Costs will be reduced
  • The risk of potential side effects from the drug will be lessened because patients receive less medicine

Because doctors feel optimistic about what the study has shown, Emory is likely to put all kidney transplant patients on the every-eight-weeks belatacept regimen sometime this year.

Belatacept Infusion Center Locations

In order to better serve our kidney transplant recipients receiving belatacept infusion, Emory Transplant Center offers partnering facilities throughout Georgia where patients can have their infusions without having to make a trip to Atlanta. We also offer select locations in Alabama, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Emory Transplant Center

Emory Transplant Center offers a comprehensive organ-transplantation program, providing clinical excellence and new transplant therapies for patients in need of heart, lung, kidney, liver and pancreas transplants. Based on Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network 2019 data, Emory Transplant Center ranks among the top 16 transplant programs in the nation for overall adult volume, performing more than 10,000 transplants to date.

For more information about the Emory Transplant Center or to schedule an appointment at any one of our satellite locations, call 855-EMORY-TX (366-7989) or visit emoryhealthcare.org/transplant.

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