Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic multisystem autoimmune disease predominantly affecting women of childbearing age. New classification criteria for SLE have greater sensitivity and therefore improve the diagnostic certainty for some patients, especially those who may previously have been labelled as having undifferentiated symptoms. Uncontrolled disease activity leads to irreversible end-organ damage, which in turn increases the risk of premature death; early and sustained control of disease activity can usually be achieved by conventional immunosuppressant therapy. The development of biological therapy lags behind that for other rheumatic diseases, with belimumab being the only targeted therapy approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. "Treat-to-target" concepts are changing trial design and clinical practice, with evidence-based definition of response criteria in the form of remission and low disease activity now on the horizon. While new therapies are awaited, research should also focus on optimising the use of current therapy and improving the quality of care of patients with SLE.