Biologics are the newest class of drugs used to treat Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Common symptoms of Crohn’s disease may include stomach pain, cramping, diarrhea, and rectal bleeding.
Crohn’s disease is a type of autoimmune disorder. Your immune system typically protects the body from foreign invaders such as bacteria and viruses. To do this, it needs to be able to tell what is helpful and what is harmful.
If you have an autoimmune disease, your body’s immune system can’t tell the difference between the good and bad and attacks healthy tissue in your body. In the case of Crohn’s disease, the body attacks tissue in the digestive tract, causing inflammation and damage.
Although Crohn’s disease can’t be cured, it usually can be controlled with medication. The goals of treatment are:
- Completely relieving symptoms, thereby putting the disease in remission
- Preventing symptom flare-ups, thereby keeping the disease in remission
- Improving quality of life
For people with moderate to severe Crohn’s disease, biologics can play an important role in treatment. Here is an overview of biologics and how they are used to treat Crohn’s disease.
How Biologics Are Different From Other Treatments
Biologics products are created from living organisms. They are engineered to target other, specific proteins in your body that cause inflammation.
Other drugs used to treat Crohn’s, such as corticosteroids, suppress your entire immune system and can cause significant side effects. Biologic therapies are more targeted and may have fewer side effects. However, some of the side effects from these drugs also can be very serious.
Four biologics have been approved by the FDA for the treatment of Crohn’s disease. Adalimumab (Humira), certolizumab pegol (Cimzia), and infliximab (Remicade) target a protein called TNF-alpha that's involved in inflammation. Natalizumab (Tysabri) works by blocking specific cells in the bloodstream that lead to inflammation.
Cimzia reduces symptoms of moderate to severe Crohn’s disease in people who have not responded to standard treatment. It also helps keeps Crohn’s symptoms in remission.
How given: injection under the skin
Common side effects:
- Joint pain
- Upper respiratory tract infection
- Urinary tract infection
Other potential side effects: All the drugs in this class share the potential for some more serious side effects, including developing infections like TB and sepsis. These drugs don't cause TB but may trigger the infection in people who have already been exposed to the disease. You may be vulnerable to other infections as well. Be sure to tell your doctor right away if you have an infection, or develop a cough, fever, fatigue, or the flu. In rare cases, some people have developed certain cancers such as lymphoma. Lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system, which is part of the body’s immune system.