Thalidomide and Lenalidomide for Refractory Systemic/Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus Treatment: A Narrative Review of Literature for Clinical Practice


Thalidomide has shown exceptional results in systemic/cutaneous lupus erythematosus(SLE/CLE). Recently, lenalidomide has been also prescribed for SLE/CLE treatment. Literature regarding efficacy/adverse events for these drugs is scarce with a single systematic review and meta-analysis focused solely on thalidomide for refractory cutaneous lupus subtypes.


We, therefore, addressed in this narrative review the efficacy/adverse effects of thalidomide and lenalidomide for SLE and CLE. In addition, we provide a specialist approach for clinical practice based on the available evidence.


Efficacy of thalidomide for refractory cutaneous lupus treatment was demonstrated by several studies, mostly retrospective with small sample size(≤20). The frequency of peripheral polyneuropathy is controversial varying from 15-80% with no consistent data regarding cumulative dose and length of use. Drug withdrawn results in clinical partial/complete reversibility for most cases (70%). For lenalidomide, seven studies (small sample sizes) reported its efficacy for SLE/CLE with complete/partial response in all patients with a mean time to response of 3 months. Flare rate varied from 25-75% occurring 0.5-10 months after drug withdrawn. There were no reports of polyneuropathy/worsening of previous thalidomide-induced neuropathy, but most of them did not perform nerve conduction studies. Teratogenicity risk exist for both drugs and strict precautions are required.


Thalidomide is very efficacious as an induction therapy for patients with severe/refractory cutaneous lupus with high risk of scarring, but its longstanding use should be avoided due to neurotoxicity. Lenalidomide is a promising drug for skin lupus treatment, particularly regarding the apparent lower frequency of nerve side effects.

 2019 Oct 29. doi: 10.1097/RHU.0000000000001160. [Epub ahead of print]