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Expert shares tips for positioning biologics in IBD patient treatment



– In the clinical opinion of Edward V. Loftus Jr., MD, biologics for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) patients are best positioned based on age, personal medical history, and the presence of extraintestinal manifestations.

An algorithmic treatment regimen guided by biomarkers of inflammation in addition to symptoms results in higher rates of endoscopic healing, and is the way to go if you’re trying to change the trajectory of illness,” Dr. Loftus said at the Crohn’s & Colitis Congress, a partnership of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and the American Gastroenterological Association.

Dr. Edward V. Loftus

In general, patients who are younger at diagnosis are going to have more severe disease than patients diagnosed older, said Dr. Loftus, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. “For CD [Crohn’s disease], the presence of fistulizing disease, especially internal fistulas, and to a lesser extent perianal fistulas, and then the presence of small-bowel disease or proximal GI disease, are all harbingers of more aggressive disease,” he said. “Multiple studies show that the time interval between diagnosis and development of intestinal complications is shorter in patients with small-bowel disease relative to colonic disease. When you add up those factors, you’re talking about 70% of CD patients, if not more. Most Crohn’s patients are going to be high-risk patients.”

For ulcerative colitis (UC), being male is a risk factor for hospitalization, surgery, and for developing colon cancer. On average, males are twice as likely as females to require surgery, and they’re twice as likely to develop colon cancer. Other predictors in UC for high-risk disease include early need for hospitalization, early need for corticosteroids, and extensive colitis at diagnosis. “You’re thinking about these things because how you’re going to treat these patients is going to differ,” he said.

According to Dr. Loftus, aminosalicylate (5-ASA) drugs are the frontline drugs of choice for low-risk UC patients with mild symptoms. “If they’re having moderate symptoms, you might initially start with a corticosteroid taper,” he noted. “That can be either prednisone or budesonide MMX. In a patient with really active symptoms, they’re going to go to IV steroids or maybe directly to anti-TNF [tumor necrosis factor] therapy.” For low-risk CD patients, consider budesonide taper then observation. “If they don’t flare again, maybe monitor that patient periodically,” he advised. “For high-risk patients, consider biologic therapy with or without thiopurine or methotrexate.”

A recent analysis of Medicare and Medicaid data from 2006 to 2013 found a significantly higher rate of mortality in IBD patients treated with prolonged corticosteroids than that seen in those treated with anti-TNF therapy (Am J Gastroenterol. Jan 16, 2018. doi: 10.1038/ajg2017.479). “That should give you pause,” Dr. Loftus said. “Don’t just put your patient on prednisone because you think it’s the easiest and safest thing to do. It’s not. It’s much more dangerous and has implications [for] the patient’s life expectancy.”

Some data are beginning to emerge about the use of biosimilars in IBD, mostly from Europe. Investigators of one randomized, controlled trial of biosimilar CT-P13 vs. originator infliximab in CD presented at the 2017 Digestive Disease Week meeting; they found in their trial that at week 6 all clinical endpoints were similar between the two agents. “If you’re forced to change your patient to this particular biosimilar, I wouldn’t be too worried about it,” Dr. Loftus said. “Of course, I’m not necessarily going to switch unless my institution or a particular third-party payer mandate it.”

In a published study funded by the Norwegian government, researchers conducted a prospective trial of switching from infliximab to CT-P13 in patients with a variety of conditions (Lancet. 2017;389:2304-16). Overall, the clinical failure rate was the same for both agents. Among CD patients, the researchers observed a nonsignificant trend toward disease worsening among those on the biosimilar, “but there was essentially no difference,” Dr. Loftus said.

He went on to discuss vedolizumab, a monoclonal antibody to alpha4beta7 integrin approved in 2014 for patients with moderate to severely active UC or CD. Phase 3 data from GEMINI I in moderate to severe UC found that relevant clinical endpoints were met by week 6 and they persisted at week 52 at both doses (N Engl J Med. 2013;369[8]:699-710). “For CD, the use of vedolizumab is a bit of a mixed picture,” Dr. Loftus said. “In GEMINI II, some of the primary endpoints were met at week 6, but at least one was missed (N Engl J Med. 2013;369[8]:711-21). The same thing was seen in GEMINI III. There’s a sense here that vedolizumab takes a little bit longer to work in CD.”

Integrated safety analyses of the GEMINI trials found no signal for increased rates of serious adverse events, and no cases of progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy have been reported (J Crohns Colitis. 2017;11[2]:185-90). “The risk factors for serious infections were prior anti-TNF failure and opioid analgesic use in UC patients and younger age, steroid use, and opioid analgesic use in CD patients,” Dr. Loftus said.

In a trial of CD patients failing anti-TNF therapy, researchers observed a robust clinical response with ustekinumab, compared with placebo, at week 6 (N Engl J Med. 2016;375:1946-60). Even greater effects were observed in UNITI-2, a trial of ustekinumab in CD patients who hadn’t failed anti-TNFs.

Dr. Loftus cautioned that elderly and immunocompromised patients face an increased risk for infections when they’re placed on anti-TNF therapy. At the same time, researchers used a French database to determine the risk of lymphoma in IBD patients stratified by medication. For patients unexposed to such therapies, the risk of lymphoma was 1:4,000. For patients on thiopurine monotherapy, the risk was about 1:2,000; it was about 1:2,500 for those on anti-TNF monotherapy and about 1:1,000 for those on combination therapy (JAMA. 2017;318:1679-86). “One of the messages in this study is we can reassure our more risk-averse patients that the absolute risk of lymphoma is very low, even among patients on combination therapy,” he said.

Dr. Loftus called for head-to-head trials comparing the individual biologic agents and shared his recommendations on how to position currently available therapies. “I would say that for the average ‘bread and butter’ Crohn’s patient, anti-TNF therapy is the way to go,” he said. “For perianal fistulizing patients, I’m going to go with anti-TNF therapy, such as infliximab or adalimumab. For a patient with active extraintestinal manifestations, such as spondyloarthropathy, uveitis, and pyoderma, anti-TNF therapy is the way to go. However, with an elderly or immunosuppressed patient, consider vedolizumab or ustekinumab. For patients with a personal history of malignancy, an anti-TNF is very reasonable, but it may be easier to convince them to consider vedolizumab or ustekinumab.”

Recommendations for UC are largely similar, he continued. “However, I think we have enough data from GEMINI I and the integrated safety data with vedolizumab to say that, for the average ‘bread and butter’ UC patient, anti-TNF therapy or vedolizumab are appropriate. For a patient with extraintestinal manifestations I would avoid vedolizumab initially and try anti-TNF therapy. For patients with acute severe colitis, we have the bulk of evidence for efficacy resting with infliximab, so I would go with that. For the elderly or immunosuppressed patient, I would go with vedolizumab. For the person with a history of malignancy, an anti-TNF agent is reasonable, but consider vedolizumab.”

Dr. Loftus disclosed that he has consulted for AbbVie, Takeda Pharmaceutical, Janssen Pharmaceutica, UCB, Pfizer, Amgen, Eli Lilly, Celltrion Healthcare, Napo Pharmaceuticals. He has also received research support from AbbVie, Takeda Pharmaceutical, Janssen Pharmaceutica, UCB, Pfizer, Amgen, Genentech, Seres Pharmaceuticals, MedImmune, Allergan, and Robarts Clinical Trials.

*This story was updated on 3/26.

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