Is There An Increased Risk of Infections with Anti-TNF Therapy?

J Holmgren et al. Inflamm Bowel Dis 2023; 29: 339-348. Open Access! The Risk of Serious Infections Before and After Anti-TNF Therapy in Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Retrospective Cohort Study 

Methods: Retrospective study with 980 patients at 5 centers participating in the Swedish IBD Quality Register. Serious infections, defined as infections requiring in-patient care, the year before and after the start of anti-TNF treatment were evaluated.

A decline in the incidence rate can first be seen beyond 1 year of treatment with anti-TNF, with an incidence rate of 1.22 (95% CI, 0.90-1.66) events per 100 person year compared with 2.19 (95% CI, 1.43-3.36) events per 100 person year the year before treatment. This is a significant reduction of infections, with an incidence rate ratio of 0.56 (95% CI, 0.33-0.95; P = .030).

Key findings:

  • A 72.0% reduction in the incidence rate of perianal abscesses and intra-abdominal abscesses during treatment with anti-TNF was found compared with before treatment.
  • Figures 2 & 3 show than most infection rates decreased with treatment. CMV infection did not change significantly with 0.10 per 100 person-years prior to treatment and 0.14 per 100 person-years after starting anti-TNF therapy
  • ” In the current study, patients younger than 20 years old experienced a substantial decrease of infection incidence rate ratio (0.11) with the introduction of anti-TNF treatment. The results could be explained by the fact that young patients have a more active disease with increased risk of infection before treatment with anti-TNF.”
  • “The most common type of infection after anti-TNF treatment was pneumonia. The high incidence of pneumonia confirms earlier data.9,36,37” However, the authors show that the rate of pneumonia dropped from 0.51 to 0.27 per 100 person-years after starting anti-TNF therapy.

The authors note that a prior study by “Zabana et al showed that patients with IBD had an increased risk for serious infection after starting immunosuppressive treatment compared with before treatment (median follow-up 3 years before and 5 years after)… the discrepancy in the result may be explained by selection bias. We included all patients starting anti-TNF treatment. However, Zabana et al included only patients who suffered from infections during immunosuppressive treatment and retrospectively examined the risk of infection before start of treatment.24

Limitations of study: several other important factors affecting infections were not captured in this study including steroid exposure and nutritional status.

My take (from authors): “The incidence rate of serious infection among IBD patients did not increase with anti-TNF therapy. Instead, serious infections seemed to decrease more than 1 year after initiation of anti-TNF treatment.”

Related blog posts:

Improving Natural History of Pediatric Crohn’s Disease with Biologic Therapy -Two Studies

D Ley et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2022; 20: 2588-2597. Open Access! New Therapeutic Strategies Have Changed the Natural History of Pediatric Crohn’s Disease: A Two-Decade Population-Based Study

This retrospective study dating back to 1988 examined 1007 patients diagnosed with CD who were followed up for a median duration of 8.8 years.

Key findings:

  • The risk for intestinal resection at 5 years decreased significantly over time (P1, 35%; P2, 31%; and P3, 22%; P = .0003. This decrease in resections coincided with increased use of immunosuppressive (IS) and anti-TNF therapy: IS and anti-TNF exposure rate at 5 years increased from 33.9% (in P1) to 76.5% (in P3) and from 0% (in P1) to 50.5% (in P3).
  • The risk for progression from inflammatory to stricturing behavior decreased significantly over time (P1, 27%; P2, 28%; and P3, 20%)

LE Targownik et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2022; 20: 2607-2618. Earlier Anti-TNF Initiation Leads to Long-term Lower Health Care Utilization in Crohn’s Disease but Not in Ulcerative Colitis

Methods: The authors “used health administrative data from Manitoba, Canada to identify all persons with a new diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) between 2001 and 2018 who received tumor necrosis factor antagonists (anti-TNF) therapy and had at least 1 year of post anti-TNF initiation follow-up.”

Key findings:

  • Among 742 persons with CD, early anti-TNF initiators had fewer IBD-specific and overall hospitalizations over the 5 years following the start of therapy
  • Incidence of resective surgery was also lower in earlier anti-TNF initiators with CD if the first year following initiation was excluded from the analysis.
  • In 318 cases of UC, there was no impact of the timing of anti-TNF therapy on the rates of hospitalization and surgery.

My take: These two studies show that use of biologic therapy is associated with better outcomes in Crohn’s disease including fewer intestinal resections and fewer hospitalizations. It appears that earlier use may alter the natural history in part by reducing the likelihood of stricturing disease. Interestingly, the RISK study showed a reduction in penetrating disease with early use of biologics but not a reduction in stricturing disease (Related blog post: CCFA: Updates in Inflammatory Bowel Disease 2017 (part 3))

What Happens When Infliximab is Stopped in Patients in Deep Remission Plus One

S Buhl et al. NEJM 2022; DOI: Discontinuation of Infliximab Therapy in Patients with Crohn’s Disease

Design: This was a multicenter, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled withdrawal study of infliximab in patients (n=115) with Crohn’s disease who were in clinical, biochemical, and endoscopic remission after standard infliximab maintenance therapy for at least 1 year. Patients were randomly assigned 1:1 to continue infliximab therapy or to receive matching placebo for 48 weeks.

Key finding:

  • At the end of the trial at week 48, relapse-free survival was 100% in the infliximab-continuation group and 51% in the infliximab-discontinuation group

My take (borrowed from authors): Discontinuation of infliximab for patients with Crohn’s disease receiving long-term infliximab therapy and in clinical, biochemical, and endoscopic remission leads to a considerable risk of relapse

Related blog posts:

Figure from NEJM Evidence Twitter Feed

S Sassine et al. AJG 2022; Volume 117 – Issue 4 – p 637-646. doi: 10.14309/ajg.0000000000001650. Risk Factors of Clinical Relapses in Pediatric Luminal Crohn’s Disease: A Retrospective Cohort Study

Key findings–The following variables were associated with clinical relapse:

  • female sex (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR] = 1.52, P = 0.0007)
  • exposure to oral 5-ASA (aHR = 1.44, P = 0.04),
  • use of immunomodulatory agents compared with tumor necrosis factor-alpha inhibitors (methotrexate aHR = 1.73, P = 0.003; thiopurines aHR = 1.63, P = 0.002)
  • presence of granulomas (aHR = 1.34, P = 0.02)
  • increased eosinophils on intestinal biopsies (aHR = 1.36, P = 0.02)
  • high levels of C-reactive protein (aHR = 1.01, P < 0.0001)
  • fecal calprotectin (aHR = 1.08, P < 0.0001)
  • low serum infliximab levels (<7 mcg/mL) (aHR = 2.32P = 0.001).

Safety of Preoperative Tumor Necrosis Factor  Inhibitor Exposure in Patients With Inflammatory Bowel Disease Undergoing Intra-abdominal Surgery

BL Cohen et al. Gastroenterol; 2022; 163: 204-221. Prospective Cohort Study to Investigate the Safety of Preoperative Tumor Necrosis Factor Inhibitor Exposure in Patients With Inflammatory Bowel Disease Undergoing Intra-abdominal Surgery

Key finding:

  • Preoperative TNFi exposure was not associated with postoperative infectious complications in a large prospective multicenter cohort. Any infection (18.1% vs 20.2%, P = .469) and SSI (12.0% vs 12.6%, P = .889) rates were similar in patients currently exposed to TNFis and those unexposed.

“Do Not Stop Anti-TNF Medications in Children with IBD When They Are Working”

In 2014, one of the posts on this blog addressed stopping anti-TNF therapy: Marriage, Divorce and Separation with Anti-TNF Therapy. My take at that time was “most patients are better off staying married to their anti-TNF therapy.”

Despite changes in therapeutic options, a recent study and editorial come to the same conclusion in 2022:

In the retrospective study, 78 patients with CD and 56 patients with UC underwent endoscopic reassessment. Key findings:

  • Mucosal healing (MH) was achieved by 32 patients with CD (41%) and 30 patients with UC (53.6%); 26 patients with CD (33.3%) and 22 patients with UC (39.3%) achieved histologic healing (HH)
  • Among 45 patients (n=24 CD, n=21 UC) with both MH & HH, anti-TNF therapy was stopped & patients received either an immunomodulatory or mesalamine. 76% of patients with CD had clinical relapse within 3 years and 17% within 1 year. Importantly, objective markers of relapse, including calprotectin and endoscopy were NOT performed; thus, this is certainly an underestimation of relapse rate and time to relapse.

In the commentary, the authors note the high rate of relapse in other studies with anti-TNF withdrawal (eg. STORI trial) and high rate of surgery in patients with perianal CD who stopped therapy. In the STORI trial, “the best outcomes [for infliximab withdrawal] were those with subtherapeutic infliximab trough levels, ie, those for whom infliximab was not responsible for maintaining their remission.”

The data are less certain for UC. The editorial notes that 85% of the 21 patients in the Scarallo study had limited left-sided colitis and only 17 were followed for at least 1 year. In adult studies on anti-TNF discontinuation with UC (Kennedy et al. Aliment Pharm Ther 2016; 43: 910-23 and Molander et al. Inflamm Bowel Dis 2014; 20: 1021-28), 42% and 35% relapsed within 12 months, whereas another small study (Farkas et al. World J Gastroenterol 2014; 20: 2995-3001) found 100% of patients on combination therapy who stopped anti-TNF agent had to restart anti-TNF therapy.

My take (from editorial): “The totality of the currently available evidence suggests that discontinuing anti-TNF medications in children with IBD is associated with a greatly increased risk of disease exacerbation, especially if the anti-TNF trough level was therapeutic.”

Broadwalk; Hollywood, FL

Combating Anti-Drug Antibodies with Immunomodulators in Pediatric IBD

RJ Colman et al. Inflamm Bowel Dis 2021; 27: 507-515. Favorable Outcomes and Anti-TNF Durability After Addition of an Immunomodulator for Anti-Drug Antibodies in Pediatric IBD Patients

In this retrospective review with 89 patients who developed antidrug antibodies (ADAs), the authors identified 30 who started an immunomodulator (IM) within 3 months of developing an ADA and compared with 59 who did not start an IM. The main IM used was methotrexate (n= 28, 93%)

Key findings:

  • 61 of the 89 patients (69%) had quiescent disease based on physician global assessment at their previous clinic visit
  • The initial anti-TNF was stopped shortly after ADA detection in 36% of the No-IM patients vs none of the IM patients. Thus, anti-TNF agents durability was prolonged in the IM group.
  • Dose intensification was also undertaken at the time of ADA detection: 25 (83%) of IM group and 28 (48%) of non-IM group.
  • At 12 months, steroid-free clinical and biochemical remission on the same anti-TNF occurred in 53.9% of the IM group vs 26.8% in the No-IM group (P = 0.025).
  • Drug levels rose higher (P = 0.003) and ADA levels fell farther (P = 0.037) in the IM group than in the No-IM group
  • Lower ADAs often improved without IM: An ADA level <329 ng/mL had a 76.2% sensitivity and an 83.3% specificity for ADA reversal without IM.

My take: If a patient develops a significantly elevated anti-drug antibody, addition of methotrexate/immunomodulator along with dose intensification increases the likelihood that the anti-TNF agent will continue to be effective.

Related blog posts:

Comparative Efficacy: Vedolizumab vs Anti-TNF Agents

M Bohm et al. AP&T: 2020; July 2020 Full text: Comparative safety and effectiveness of vedolizumab to tumour necrosis factor antagonist therapy for Crohn’s disease

Thanks to Ben Gold for this reference.

Methods: Retrospective observational cohort (May 2014–December 2017) propensity score‐weighted comparison of vedolizumab vs TNF‐antagonist therapy (infliximab, adalimumab, certolizumab) in CD.  This study included 1266 patients (n = 659 vedolizumab).

Key findings:

  • Rates of non‐infectious serious adverse events (odds ratio [OR] 0.072, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.012‐0.242) were significantly lower with vedolizumab vs TNF‐antagonist therapy.
    • These events included severe arthralgias in 3 vedolizumab-treated patients.  For anti-TNF recipients, events included hypersensitivity or infusion reactions (n = 6), drug‐induced psoriasis (n = 6), drug‐induced lupus (n = 5), severe liver function test abnormalities (n = 3), skin rash (n = 2), lung cancer (n = 1) and jaw or hip necrosis (n = 2).
  • Rates of serious infections (OR 1.183, 95% CI 0.786‐1.795), were NOT significantly lower with vedolizumab vs TNF‐antagonist therapy.
    • “The risk of serious infections with biologic therapy is largely driven by disease activity and concomitant use of immunosuppressive agents…. the higher concomitant use of steroids among the vedolizumab‐treated patients in our cohort may therefore help to explain the lack of observed difference in risk for serious infections between agents.”
  • No significant difference was observed between vedolizumab and TNF‐antagonist therapy for clinical remission (hazard ratio [HR] 0.932, 95% CI 0.707‐1.228), steroid‐free clinical remission (HR 1.250, 95% CI 0.677‐2.310) or endoscopic remission (HR 0.827, 95% CI 0.595‐1.151).
    • “Our observational cohort study was not designed to be a noninferiority study, and the safety and effectiveness comparisons were exploratory in nature.”
  • The efficacy of vedolizumab in this study is more impressive given that 91% of the patients had prior anti-TNF therapy.
    • “Exploratory subgroup analyses suggested that vedolizumab might be superior to subcutaneous TNF‐antagonist therapy for the achievement of clinical remission and steroid‐free clinical remission in TNF‐antagonist–naïve patients.”
  • TNF‐antagonist therapy was associated with higher treatment persistence compared with vedolizumab.

My take: This article shows that clinical experience with vedolizumab is quite good and compares favorably with anti-TNF agents.  Randomized head-to-head studies are needed, though, to truly determine efficacy in similar populations.

Related blog posts:

Early Treatment with Anti-TNF Agents and Development of Perianal Fistulas

AAM Singer, DA Bloom, J Adler. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2020; In Press: Factors Associated With Development of Perianal Fistulas in Pediatric Patients With Crohn’s Disease

Also, related article:

Full Text: 2019 Jan 1;25(1):1-13. doi: 10.1093/ibd/izy247. Clinical Practice Guideline for the Medical Management of Perianal Fistulizing Crohn’s Disease: The Toronto Consensus.

Related blog posts:

Disclaimer: This blog, gutsandgrowth, assumes no responsibility for any use or operation of any method, product, instruction, concept or idea contained in the material herein or for any injury or damage to persons or property (whether products liability, negligence or otherwise) resulting from such use or operation. These blog posts are for educational purposes only. Specific dosing of medications (along with potential adverse effects) should be confirmed by prescribing physician.  Because of rapid advances in the medical sciences, the gutsandgrowth blog cautions that independent verification should be made of diagnosis and drug dosages. The reader is solely responsible for the conduct of any suggested test or procedure.  This content is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a condition.

IBD Updates: Depression and Crohn’s Disease, Blood Tests in Pediatric IBD

LW Gaines et al. Inflamm Bowel Dis 2020; 26: 423-8. In this study with 3307 adults with Crohn’s disease (CD) and baseline demographics, CD activity and an affective-cognitive index of depression, the authors used structural equation models to determine the likelihood of whether depression triggers CD activity or whether CD activity triggers depression.  Key findings: “The hypothesis that an affective-cognitive depression predicts patient-reported exacerbation of CD is 218 times more likely to account for the data than the converse.”   (Depression is likely to increase CD activity rather than be due to CD activity).

JJ Ashton et al. Inflamm Bowel Dis 2020; 26: 469-76. Among 256 patients (dx 2013-17) in Southhampton-PIBD database, there were 151 with CD, 95 with UC and 10 IBD-unclassified.  Key findings:

  • 9% presented with all normal blood tests (tests analyzed if available: CRP, ESR, Albumin, platelets, packed cell volume, wbc, ALT)
  • Normal labs were more common with UC compared to CD: 14.4% vs 5.3%

RC Ungaro et al. AP&T; 2020; DOI: 10.1111/apt.15685.  (Thanks to Ben Gold for this reference).  Systematic review with meta-analysis: efficacy and safety of early biologic treatment in adult and paediatric patients with Crohn’s disease. A total of 18 471 patients were studied, with  a median follow-up of 64 weeks (range 10-416). Meta-analysis found that early use of biologics was associated with higher rates of clinical remission (OR 2.10 [95% CI: 1.69-2.60], n = 2763, P < 0.00001), lower relapse rates (OR 0.31 [95% CI: 0.14-0.68], n = 596, P = 0.003) and higher mucosal healing rates (OR 2.37 [95% CI: 1.78-3.16], n = 994, P < 0.00001) compared with late/conventional management. Conclusions: Early biologic treatment is associated with improved clinical outcomes in both adult and paediatric CD patients, not only in prospective clinical trials but also in real-world settings.

RS Boneh et al. Dietary Therapies Induce Rapid Response and Remission in Pediatric Patients With Active Crohn’s Disease Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol (online April 14, 2020, in press) Thanks to KT Park’s Twitter feed for this reference.

  • Methods: We collected data from the multicenter randomized trial of the CD exclusion diet (CDED). We analyzed data from 73 children with mild to moderate CD (mean age, 14.2±2.7 y) randomly assigned to groups given either exclusive enteral nutrition (EEN, n=34) or the CDED with 50% (partial) enteral nutrition (n=39). Patients were examined at baseline and at weeks 3 and 6 of the diet. Remission was defined as CD activity index scores below 10 and response was defined as a decrease in score of 12.5 points or clinical remission. Inflammation was assessed by measurement of C-reactive protein.
  • Results: At week 3 of the diet, 82% of patients in the CDED group and 85% of patients in the EEN group had a dietary remission (DiRe). Median serum levels of C-reactive protein had decreased from 24 mg/L at baseline to 5.0 mg/L at week 3 (P<.001). Among the 49 patients in remission at week 6, 46 patients (94%) had a DiRe and 81% were in clinical remission by week 3. In multivariable analysis, remission at week 3 increased odds of remission by week 6 (odds ratio, 6.37; 95% CI, 1.6–25; P=.008) whereas poor compliance reduced odds of remission at week 6 (odds ratio, 0.75; 95% CI, 0.012–0.46; P=.006).
  • Conclusions: For pediatric patients with active CD, dietary therapies (CDED and EEN) induce a rapid clinical response (by week 3).

Related blog posts:

Disclaimer: This blog, gutsandgrowth, assumes no responsibility for any use or operation of any method, product, instruction, concept or idea contained in the material herein or for any injury or damage to persons or property (whether products liability, negligence or otherwise) resulting from such use or operation. These blog posts are for educational purposes only. Specific dosing of medications (along with potential adverse effects) should be confirmed by prescribing physician.  Because of rapid advances in the medical sciences, the gutsandgrowth blog cautions that independent verification should be made of diagnosis and drug dosages. The reader is solely responsible for the conduct of any suggested test or procedure.  This content is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a condition


What Happens After The First Anti-TNF Agent Doesn’t Work?

A recent intriguing retrospective study (MJ Casanova et al. Inflamm Bowel Dis 2020; 26: 606-16, editorial 617-18) examines a large cohort (n=1122) who received either a 2nd or 3rd anti-TNF agent.  This relied on the ENEIDA registry which is a prospectively maintained registry from Spain with 11,866 patients. In this study, clinical remission was gauged with a Harvey Bradshaw Index score of ≤4 in Crohn’s disease (CD) or a partial Mayo score of ≤2 in ulcerative colitis (UC).

Key findings:

  • 45% of patients achieved remission with the second anti-TNF at 12 weeks (short-term); loss of response was 19% per patient-year subsequently. Patients with intolerance to the first drug had higher remission rates compared to those who switched due to secondary failure (52% vs 42%) or primary failure (52% vs 39%).
  • Among the 45% who responded to a second anti-TNF agent, 77% maintained remission at 1 year following switch.
  • There was similar initial response to a second anti-TNF among patients with CD and UC: 46% vs 41%, though patients with UC were more likely to lose efficacy.
  • Combination therapy was associated with a higher likelihood of failure, HR 2.4 (possibly as an indicator of more aggressive disease)
  • Among the 71 patients who progressed to a 3rd anti-TNF agent, 55% achieved remission at 12 weeks. 


  • The authors in their discussion not that “primary failure is considered a class effect phenomenon…However, our results indicate that remission may still be achieved with a second anti-TNF in approximately 50% of patients.”
  • The editorial notes that the results need to be interpreted with caution.  Therapeutic drug monitoring (TDM) which is not incorporated in this study is crucial in optimizing response and switching.  “Importantly, nearly two-thirds of patients with therapeutic drug levels in the study form the Mayo Clinic had no active inflammation.  Thus, a change in therapy would be inappropriate in this population.”

My take: This study indicates that a 2nd anti-TNF agent can be effective in those who do not respond to a 1st.  At the same time, careful assessment including TDM is needed when changing agents, especially in view of the limited number of effective therapies.

Related blog posts:

From Atlanta Botanical Garden