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Immune System Drugs Help IBD

From Viagra Relative to Arthritis Medication, New Drugs Promise Gentler, Better Results
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WebMD Health News

May 19, 2004 (New Orleans) -- New medicines -- ranging from a relative of Viagra to an arthritis drug -- target the haywire immune responses that underlie inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Inflammatory bowel disease is the umbrella term for a number of conditions that cause inflammation of the bowel. The two most common ones are ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Both of these conditions occur when the immune system goes awry and attacks the lining of the colon. The disorders take a toll on their victims - affecting more than 1 million in the U.S. alone -- causing belly aches, diarrhea, and other symptoms that are often severe enough to interfere with daily activities, says James B. Lewis, MD, associate director of the inflammatory disease program at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

"We're seeing many different approaches to treat this inflammation," says Stephen B. Hanauer, MD, professor of medicine and clinical pharmacology at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. "For example, [corticosteroids] already used to treat IBD, are effective anti-inflammatory agents but they affect all tissues, causing many side effects."

Many of the new drugs, on the other hand, selectively target the defects associated with IBD -- an approach that promises better results with fewer side effects, he tells WebMD.

There were a number of new approaches discussed here at Digestive Disease Week, a major medical meeting of gastroenterologists.

Arthritis Medication Combats Crohn's, too

The rheumatoid arthritis drug Humira helped patients with moderate Crohn's disease to go into remission, Hanauer says.

A man-made biological substance called a monoclonal antibody, Humira works by blocking an inflammation-causing protein called tumor necrosis factor alpha, or TNF-alpha, that has been implicated in both rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease.

In a study of nearly 300 patients who did not improve despite treatment with standard medications, 30% of those given higher doses of Humira were in remission by four weeks later, compared with only 12% on placebo, Hanauer reports.

Humira is an injectable drug and was extremely well tolerated, he says.

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