Trends in Liver Diseases: Autoimmune Liver Diseases and Fatty Liver

1st Study: M Lamba et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2021; 19: 573-579. Full text: Trends in Incidence of Autoimmune Liver Diseases and Increasing Incidence of Autoimmune Hepatitis

This was a population-based prospective study from Canterbury, New Zealand

Key findings:

  • Overall incidence rates were 1.93 per 100,000 for AIH (95% CI, 1.58–2.34), 0.51 per 100,000 for PBC (95% CI, 0.33–0.73), and 0.92 per 100,000 for PSC (95% CI, 0.68–1.21). 
  •  The incidence rate of AIH was significantly higher during the period of 2014–2016 (2.39 per 100,000; 95% CI, 1.76–3.23) than during the period of 2008–2010 (1.37 per 100,000; 95% CI, 0.91– 2.06) (P < .05). Incidences of PBC and PSC did not change significantly.
  • In 2016, prevalence values were 27.4 per 100,000 for AIH (95% CI, 23.58–32.0), 9.33 per 100,000 for PBC (95% CI, 7.13–12.05), and 13.17 per 100,000 for PSC (95% CI, 10.56–16.42).

My take: This study indicates that autoimmune hepatitis has been increasing in incidence.

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2ndStudy: ZM Younossi et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2021; 19: 580-589. Full text: Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis Is the Most Rapidly Increasing Indication for Liver Transplantation in the United States

This study was an analysis of data from the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (2002 through 2019).

Key findings:

  • In 2002, the most common etiologies of non-acute liver failure on the liver transplant waitlist (in patients without HCC)
  • In 2019, among patients without HCC, NASH was the second leading indication for liver transplantation (28% of patients), after ALD (38% of patients). were chronic HCV infection (37%) and ALD (16%), whereas only 5% had NASH
  • HCC accounted for 27,799 patients (16.5%) and was commonly due to chronic HCV throughout study period

My take: Demand for liver transplantation has NOT improved despite curative therapy for chronic hepatitis C. This is due to increased liver failure related to fatty liver disease and alcoholic liver disease.

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Figure 1 Prevalence of the most common CLD etiologies in waitlisted liver transplant candidates without HCC. (A) Proportion of all non-HCC listings with known etiology; (B) the proportion relative to that seen in 2002.

FITCH Study of Bezafibrate for Pruritus Due to Cholestatic Liver Disease

In the Fibrates for Itch (FITCH) study, (E de Vries, R Bolier e al. Gastroenterol 2021; 160: 734-743. Full text pdf: Fibrates for Itch (FITCH) in Fibrosing Cholangiopathies:A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial), the authors study bezafibrate, a broad peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) agonist.

Key findings:

  • 70 patients completed the trial (44 PSC, 24 PBC, 2 SSC) (SSC =secondary sclerosing cholangitis). Treated patients received bezafibrate 400 mg once a day for 21 days.
  • For the primary end point, bezafibrate led in 45% (41% PSC, 55% PBC) and placebo in 11% to >/=50% reduction of severe or moderate pruritus (P ¼ .003).
  • Bezafibrate also reduced serum alkaline phosphatase (35%, P ¼ .03 vs placebo) correlating with improved pruritus (VAS, P ¼ .01) suggesting reduced biliary damage.
  • Serum bile acids and autotaxin activity remained unchanged.

My take: While the majority of patients did not reach the primary end point, bezafibrate merits further investigation and may be a useful agent for pruritus in the setting of cholestatic liver disease. From the associated editorial (pg 649, JK Dyson et al. Bezafibrate for the Treatment of Cholestatic Pruritus: Time for a Change in Management?): “FITCH is an important study and provides novel and important data. It suggests that bezafibrate can be part of the answer to cholestatic pruritus.”

From Editorial:

Current treatment ladder for pruritus and the potential positioning of bezafibrate in the future.

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Yesterday’s post alluded to alcoholic liver disease. More on that topic from NPR:

Link: Sharp, ‘Off The Charts’ Rise In Alcoholic Liver Disease Among Young Women

Cases of alcoholic liver disease — which includes milder fatty liver and the permanent scarring of cirrhosis, as well as alcoholic hepatitis — are up 30% over the last year at the University of Michigan’s health system, says Dr. Jessica Mellinger, a liver specialist there….

In the U.S., more than 44,000 people died of alcoholic liver disease in 2019. And although liver diseases still affect more men, younger women are driving the increase in deaths, a trend that began several years ago and is now supercharged by the pandemic

New Treatment for Primary Biliary Cholangitis

Another treatment is emerging for biliary cholangitis (PBC):  C Corpechot et al (NEJM 2018; 378: 2171-81) shows that an inexpensive medication, bezafibrate, is effective in patients with PBC who have not responded adequately to ursodeoxycholic acid. An associated editorial (2234-35 by Elizabeth Carey) notes that this medication is not available in the U.S., though a similar medicine, fenofibrate “has shown similar efficacy” in PBC (off-label).

FDA Warning for Obeticholic Acid

Obeticholic acid was approved last year as a treatment for primary biliary cholangitis (PBC). Now (9/21/17), the FDA warns of 19 deaths associated with Obeticholic Acid, particularly when the medication has been used at higher than recommended dosing.

Link: FDA Warning on Obeticholic Acid

An excerpt:

Nineteen cases of death were identified, of which eight provided information about the patient’s cause of death. The cause of death was reported to be worsening of PBC disease in seven cases, with cardiovascular disease cited in the other case. Seven of these eight cases described patients with moderate to severe decreased liver function who received Ocaliva 5 mg daily, instead of a dose no greater than 10 mg twice weekly as recommended in the label prescribing information for patients with this extent of decreased liver function.

Obeticholic Acid in Primary Biliary Cholangitis

While Primary Biliary Cholangitis (PBC) (previously called primary biliary cirrhosis) is seen mainly in adult hepatology practices, a new treatment may be emerging and this same medication is likely to be considered for several liver conditions.

Reference: F Nevens et al. NEJM 2016; 375: 631-43.

This 12 month, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase 3 “POISE” trial with 217 patients examined the use of obeticholic acid with or without ursodeoxycholic acid.  Surrogate markers of PBC were followed & the treatment groups improved compared to placebo.  However, adverse effects, particularly itching, were more common in the obeticholic acid groups; serious adverse effects were 11-16% in the treatment groups compared with 4% in the placebo group.

Results below:

PBC Rx

My take: It will be nice when important clinical endpoints can be assessed for this therapy like progression to cirrhosis.  For now, the cost of this treatment is ~$70,000 yearly.

Related blog post:

Breakthrough for Fatty Liver Disease? | gutsandgrowth