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Rituximab in autoimmune bullous diseases: mixed responses and adverse effects.

BACKGROUND: Intolerably high doses of systemic corticosteroids and additional immunosuppressants may be required to control disease activity in autoimmune bullous skin diseases. New therapeutic options are needed for such patients.

OBJECTIVES: To determine the efficacy and adverse effects of adjuvant rituximab.

METHODS: Seven patients with refractory autoimmune blistering diseases (pemphigus vulgaris, PV, n = 4; bullous pemphigoid, BP, n = 2; mucous membrane pemphigoid, MMP, n = 1) were treated four times with rituximab at an individual dose of 375 mg m(-2) at weekly intervals.

RESULTS: All lesions cleared in three patients (two PV, one BP), while they were reduced by more than 50% in three others (two PV, one BP). The concomitant immunosuppressive medication was reduced in five patients (four PV, one BP). The patient with MMP developed bilateral blindness while nasopharyngeal lesions resolved. Three patients (two BP, one PV) experienced severe adverse events including fatal pneumonia.

CONCLUSIONS: Adjuvant B-cell depletion by rituximab is effective in otherwise therapy-resistant bullous autoimmune disorders but may be associated with substantial adverse effects including fatal outcomes.

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