Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a multi-systemic disease characterized by an unpredictable disease course and periods of remission and flare, leading to organ damage and mortality. Novel biological agents are being developed (targeting the lymphocytes, accessory molecules and cytokines) that aim to enhance the therapeutic efficacy when combined with standard therapies. Areas covered: This article updates recent data on the use of biological and targeted therapies in SLE. Expert commentary: B cells remain the main target of development of novel therapeutics in SLE. Similar to the intravenous preparation, subcutaneous belimumab has been shown to be superior to placebo when added to the standard of care in SLE. However, two phase III trials of epratuzumab and blisibimod did not meet their primary endpoints. Recent data on the inhibition of type I interferons (anifrolumab) appear promising. Newer calcineurin inhibitors and combination strategies using conventional immunosuppressive agents are being tested in lupus nephritis. Finally, international groups are developing consensus definitions on disease remission and low disease activity state to explore the benefits of the treat-to-target strategy in SLE. Hopefully, the armamentarium for the treatment of SLE can be expanded in the near future, so that the longevity and quality of life of patients can be further improved.