What happens when anti-TNF therapy is stopped

Another study (NA Kennedy et al. Aliment Pharmacol Ther 2016; 43: 910-23) has examined the issue of outcomes after anti-TNF therapy withdrawal among patients with inflammatory bowel disease.

This study included 166 UK patient cohort (117 with Crohn’s disease [median 31 yrs], 19 with ulcerative colitis [median 40 years]) as part of a retrospective observational study and a meta-analysis incorporating 11 further cohorts totalling 746 patients (624 with Crohn’s dissease, 122 with ulcerative colitis).

Key findings:

  • In the UK cohort, relapse rates were 36% at year and 56% at 2 years for Crohn’s disease
  • In the UK cohort, relapse rates were 42% at year and 47% at 2 years for ulcerative colitis
  • Increased relapse rates were noted for those with a diagnosis prior to age 22 years (hazard ratio (HR) 2.78), calprotectin >50 mcg/g (HR 2.95).
  • In meta-analysis, 1-year relapse rates were 39% for CD and 35% for UC/IBDU patients
  • Retreatment with anti-TNF was successful in 88% for CD and 76% of UC/IBDU patients

To understand this study, it is important to note some of the study criteria.  In the UK cohort, inclusion criteria required the patient to have had at least 12 months of ant-TNF therapy and be in corticosteroid-remission for at least 6 months.  In addition, the relapse rate is likely to be underestimated due to using a definition of relapse that required either commencement of steroids, immunomodulator or anti-TNF therapy.  The meta-anlaysis cohort studies also used clinical relapse rather than endoscopic or other objective markers.

My take: Relapse of clinical symptoms occur in about 40% after withdrawal in highly-selected groups who were doing well prior.  Significantly higher rates of endoscopic relapse are likely.  This study provides strong reasons for not interrupting therapy when it is working.

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