Belimumab and Rituximab Combination Therapy for the Treatment of Diffuse Cutaneous Systemic Sclerosis

Study Purpose

This is a 52 week, single center, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. After patients maintain a stable dose of Mycophenolate Mofetil (MMF) for at least 1 month, they will be randomized to treatment with either Belimumab & Rituximab or placebo.Patients in both groups will be on background MMF for the entirety of the study. Belimumab will be administered subcutaneously and Rituximab intravenously. Placebo injections and infusions will be of normal saline. Randomization will be done in a 2:1 manner to favor the treatment group. It is hypothesized that that Rituximab and Belimumab combination therapy with Mycophenolate Mofetil background therapy will improve fibrosis in SSc skin when compared to treatment with placebo and Mycophenolate Mofetil in a group of patients with early dcSSc.

Recruitment Criteria

Accepts Healthy Volunteers

Healthy volunteers are participants who do not have a disease or condition, or related conditions or symptoms

Study Type

An interventional clinical study is where participants are assigned to receive one or more interventions (or no intervention) so that researchers can evaluate the effects of the interventions on biomedical or health-related outcomes.

An observational clinical study is where participants identified as belonging to study groups are assessed for biomedical or health outcomes.

Searching Both is inclusive of interventional and observational studies.

Eligible Ages 18 Years - 80 Years
Gender All
More Inclusion & Exclusion Criteria

Inclusion Criteria:

1. Age greater than or equal to eighteen years and less than or equal to 80. 2. Classification of systemic sclerosis (SSc), as defined using the 2013 American College of Rheumatology/European Union League Against Rheumatism classification of SSc. 3. Diagnosis of dcSSc, as defined by LeRoy and Medsger. 4. Disease duration of less than or equal to 3 years as defined by the date of onset of the first non-Raynaud's symptom. 5. A modified Rodnan Skin Score (mRSS) of > 14.

Exclusion Criteria:

1. Inability to render informed consent in accordance with institutional guidelines. 2. Disease duration of greater than 3 years. 3. Patients with mixed connective tissue disease or "overlap" unless the dominant features of the illness are diffuse systemic sclerosis. 4. Limited scleroderma. 5. Systemic sclerosis-like illness associated with environmental or ingested agents such as toxic rapeseed oil, vinyl chloride, or bleomycin. 6. The use of other anti-fibrotic agents including colchicine, D-penicillamine, or tyrosine kinase inhibitors (nilotinib, imatinib, dasatinib) in the month prior to enrollment. 7. Use in the prior month of corticosteroids at doses exceeding the equivalent of prednisone 10 mg daily. Use of corticosteroid at < 10 mg of prednisone can continue during the course of the study. 8. Concurrent serious medical condition which in the opinion of the investigator makes the patient inappropriate for this study such as uncontrollable CHF, arrhythmia, severe pulmonary or systemic hypertension, severe GI involvement, hepatic impairment, serum creatinine of greater than 2.0, active infection, severe diabetes, unstable atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, malignancy, HIV, or severe peripheral vascular disease. 9. A positive pregnancy test at entry into this study. Men and women with reproductive potential will be required to use effective means of contraception through the course of the study, such as
  • (1) surgical sterilization (such as a tubal ligation or hysterectomy), (2) double-barrier methods (such as a condom and occlusive cap (diaphragm or cervical/vault caps) plus spermicidal agent (foam/gel/film/cream/suppository)(3) an intrauterine device (IUD) or intrauterine system (IUS) (4) estrogenic vaginal ring (5) percutaneous contraceptive patches, or (6) implants of levonorgestrel or etonogestrel.
Approved hormonal contraceptives (such as birth control pills, patches, implants or injections) may interact with and reduce the effectiveness of MMF so women receiving MMF who are using oral contraceptives for birth control should employ an additional method (e.g. barrier method). Contraceptive measures such as Plan B (TM), sold for emergency use after unprotected sex, are not acceptable methods for routine use. 10. Women not willing to use effective birth control for the duration of the study. 11. Breastfeeding. 12. Participation in another clinical research study involving the evaluation of another investigational drug within ninety days of entry into this study. 13. The presence of severe lung disease as defined by a diffusion capacity of less than 30% of predicted or requiring supplemental oxygen and forced vital capacity (FVC) of less than 45% of predicted. 14. Grade 3 hypogammaglobulinemia. 15. Have a significant IgG deficiency (IgG level < 400 mg/dL) 16. Have an IgA deficiency (IgA level < 10 mg/dL) 17. Have a historically positive HIV test or test positive at screening for HIV. 18. Neutrophils <1.5X10E9/L. 19. Hepatitis status: 1. Serologic evidence of current or past Hepatitis B (HB) infection based on the results of testing for HBsAg and HBcAb as follows: 1. Patients positive for HBsAg or HBcAb are excluded b) Positive test for Hepatitis C antibody 20. Known active bacterial, viral, fungal, mycobacterial, or other infection or any major episode of infection requiring hospitalization or treatment with IV antibiotics within 4 weeks of screening, or oral antibiotics within 2 weeks prior to screening 21. Infection history: 1. Currently on any suppressive therapy for a chronic infection (such as tuberculosis, pneumocystis, cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex virus, herpes zoster and atypical mycobacteria) 2. Hospitalization for treatment of infection within 60 days of Day 0. 3. Use of parenteral (IV or IM) antibiotics (antibacterials, antivirals, anti-fungals, or anti-parasitic agents) within 60 days of Day 0 22. Suppressive therapy for a chronic infection (such as tuberculosis, pneumocystis, cytomegalovirus, herpes zoster and atypical mycobacteria) 23. Any other disease, metabolic dysfunction, physical examination finding, or clinical laboratory finding giving reasonable suspicion of a disease or condition that contraindicates the use of an investigational drug or that may affect the interpretation of the results or render the patient at high risk from treatment complications 24. Prior use of Belimumab, Rituximab, or other B-Cell depleting therapies ever 25. The use of other biologics including TNF inhibitors, abatacept, or tocilizumab within the washout period below for each particular drug: Tocilizumab
  • - 1 month for patients on 2mg/kg or 4 mg/kg.
2 months for patients on 8mg/kg. Cyclophosphamide (oral or IV)
  • - 3 months.
  • - 2.5 months.
TNF Inhibitors : Etanercept
  • - 1 mo, Infliximab - 2 mo, Adalimumab - 2.5 mo.
Any biologic investigational agent (e.g., abetimus sodium, anti CD40L antibody, BG9588/ IDEC 131)
  • - 365 days prior to belimumab.
Any non-biologic investigational agent
  • - 30 days prior to belimumab.
26. Have evidence of serious suicide risk including any history of suicidal behavior in the last 6 months and/or any suicidal ideation in the last 2 months or who in the investigator's judgment, pose a significant suicide risk. 27. Current drug or alcohol abuse or dependence, or a history of drug or alcohol abuse or dependence within 364 days prior to Day 0. 28. History of an anaphylactic reaction to parenteral administration of contrast agents, human or murine proteins or monoclonal antibodies 29. Live vaccines within 30 days prior to baseline 30. Have a history of malignant neoplasm within the last 5 years with the exception of basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma of the skin treated with local resection only or carcinoma in situ of the uterine cervix treated locally and with no evidence of metastatic disease for 3 years 31. Have a history of a primary immunodeficiency 32. Have any other clinically significant abnormal laboratory value in the opinion of the investigator 33. Have any intercurrent significant medical or psychiatric illness that the investigator considers would make the candidate unsuitable for the study 34. Non English speakers

Trial Details

Trial ID:

This trial id was obtained from, a service of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, providing information on publicly and privately supported clinical studies of human participants with locations in all 50 States and in 196 countries.


Phase 1: Studies that emphasize safety and how the drug is metabolized and excreted in humans.

Phase 2: Studies that gather preliminary data on effectiveness (whether the drug works in people who have a certain disease or condition) and additional safety data.

Phase 3: Studies that gather more information about safety and effectiveness by studying different populations and different dosages and by using the drug in combination with other drugs.

Phase 4: Studies occurring after FDA has approved a drug for marketing, efficacy, or optimal use.

Phase 2
Lead Sponsor

The sponsor is the organization or person who oversees the clinical study and is responsible for analyzing the study data.

Hospital for Special Surgery, New York
Principal Investigator

The person who is responsible for the scientific and technical direction of the entire clinical study.

Robert Spiera, MD
Principal Investigator Affiliation Hospital for Special Surgery, New York
Agency Class

Category of organization(s) involved as sponsor (and collaborator) supporting the trial.

Overall Status Recruiting
Countries United States

The disease, disorder, syndrome, illness, or injury that is being studied.

Systemic Sclerosis
Additional Details

The specific objectives of this study are to: 1. Determine whether rituximab/belimumab/mmf is safe and tolerable in the treatment of patients with early diffuse cutaneous (dc)SSc when compared to patients treated with placebo/placebo/mmf, as assessed by comparison of adverse and serious adverse effects. In this study stand of care will be protocolized as mycophenolate mofetil. 2. Determine whether rituximab/belimumab/mmf is more effective than placebo/placebo/mmf, as measured by change in CRISS, which is a composite outcome measure provisionally endorsed by the ACR for scleroderma clinical trials. It incorporates change in the mRSS, FVC percent predicted, physician and patient global assessments, and HAQ-DI. Additionally, hemoglobin corrected diffusion capacity (DLCO), Medsger Severity Scale (MSS), and by other physician and patient derived outcome measures will be used. 3. Determine the biological activity of rituximab/belimumab/mmf vs.#46;placebo/placebo/mmf as assessed by effect on histology of skin, gene expression of skin and blood, change in B-Cell profiles including assessment of B regulatory cells, and effect on serological and cutaneous biomarkers of disease activity.

Arms & Interventions


Experimental: MMF + Rituximab + Belimumab

Two infusions of 1000 mg of Rituximab, two weeks apart, weekly subcutaneous injections of 200 mg of Belimumab, and background MMF, 1000 -1500 mg twice daily for 48 weeks.

Placebo Comparator: MMF + Placebo + Placebo

Two placebo infusions of normal saline, two weeks apart, weekly saline placebo subcutaneous injections, and background MMF, 1000 -1500 mg twice daily for 48 weeks.


Drug: - Belimumab

Belimumab decreases B-Cell survival and has been FDA approved for the treatment of systemic lupus erythematosus, another rheumatic autoimmune disease. Belimumab is a recombinant, fully human monoclonal antibody; it binds to the soluble human B lymphocyte stimulator (BLyS) with high affinity and inhibits its biologic activity. The background above provides a robust rationale for the investigation of belimumab in the treatment of dcSSc.

Drug: - Rituximab

Rituxan® (rituximab) is a genetically engineered IgG1 kappa chimeric murine/human monoclonal antibody containing murine light- and heavy-chain variable region sequences and human constant region sequences. The antibody reacts specifically with the CD20 antigen found on the surface of malignant and normal B cells, and established B cell lines. Studies have shown that rituximab binds via its Fc domain to human complement and lyses lymphoid B cell lines by complement dependent cytotoxicity through the induction of apoptosis and via antibody-dependent cell mediated cytotoxicity. Rituximab is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat some types of cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and vasculitis.

Other: - Placebo Subcutaneous Injection

Normal Saline

Other: - Placebo Infusion

Normal Saline

Drug: - MMF

MMF belongs to a group of medicines known as immunosuppressive agents. It is used with other medicines to lower the body's natural immunity.

Contact a Trial Team

If you are interested in learning more about this trial, find the trial site nearest to your location and contact the site coordinator via email or phone. We also strongly recommend that you consult with your healthcare provider about the trials that may interest you and refer to our terms of service below.

Hospital for Special Surgery, New York, New York




Hospital for Special Surgery

New York, New York, 10021

Site Contact

Elizabeth Soto-Cardona, MPH

[email protected]