Video for Patients: Benefits and Risks of IBD Treatment & Risks of Untreated IBD

A recent study (NE Newman, KL Williams, BJ Zikmunde-Fisher, J Adler. JPGN 2020;70: e33-36) highlights work to communicate the benefits and risks of the treatment for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) along with the risks of untreated IBD.  “We developed a simple video aid to illustrate competing risks associated with medications and underling disease in context of inflammatory bowel disease…Those who viewed the video aid had more realistic perceptions than those who did not view it.”

Here is a link to the ~13 minute online video: IBD: Risk of Disease and Treatments

Overall, the presentation is very helpful and thoughtful.  I think this would be an excellent overview for families.  For practitioners, a few points that could benefit from some nuance are noted below some screenshots.  It is worth stating that the authors had started this project a few years ago and some of the points below are related to more information that has emerged.

In the section of treatment benefits (above), the presentation suggests that thiopurines (azathioprine, 6-mercaptopurine) and methotrexate both are effective in about 50%; this is probably an overestimate; in addition, methotrexate as monotherapy is definitely less effective (if effective at all) for ulcerative colitis .  Also, it would be worthwhile to indicate that anti-TNF monotherapy with therapeutic drug monitoring may help achieve similar benefits as dual therapy.

In the section of colon cancer, the authors provide useful data that current treatments lower this risk substantially.  It is notable that more recent reports suggest that there have been improvements in the rates of colon cancer associated with IBD.

Overall, the section on lymphoma is very good.

In the section on other complications, the presentation suggests that there may be impaired wound-healing with anti-TNFs.  I think this risk is overstated in this slide. Also, I think the risk of severe infection with thiopurines is a little bit higher than stated; though, this can be mitigated with careful monitoring.

I think this summary slide could be improved by noting that the overall risk of serious cancers is likely lowered by treating IBD.  Since colon cancer is a fairly common cancer and IBD treatment reduces the risk, this likely outweighs the increased risk of other cancers (eg. lymphoma) which are much less common.

Another link to video:

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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.

Pediatric Home and Office Biologic Infusions -What is Needed

A recent clinical report (E Barfield et al. JPGN 2018; 66: 680-86) will be influential.  This guideline is from the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition.  Congratulations to my partner, Chelly Dykes, who is one of the coauthors.

Full textAssuring Quality for Non-Hospital Based Biologic Infusions in Pediatric Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Clinical Report from the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition

For many years, our office has had an office-based infusion center which has provided infusions in a safe and cost-effective manner.  Recently, there have been some situations in which home-based infusions have been proposed either to lower costs and/or for convenience.  This report succinctly describes the hurdles that need to be addressed before recommending this treatment pathway. As noted below, patient safety encompasses a great deal more than infusion reactions. Delays in infusions (which can increase risk of loss of response) due to reactions and lapses in communication are additional issues.

Recommendation 1: Home- or office-based infusions should ensure safe administration of the biologic infusion, provide reliable execution of infusion-related orders (eg, laboratories for therapeutic drug monitoring, dose optimization protocols, etc), and be equipped to recognize and respond to potential complications.

  • Infusion reactions:  ” Infusion reactions associated with infliximab and vedolizumab can range from mild reactions such as fever and chills, dyspnea, pruritus, or urticaria (in approximately 5%–10%), to severe reactions including anaphylaxis, convulsions, and hypotension (<1%)”
  • Emergencies: “In the event of an urgent or emergent reaction during home- or office-based infusions, the in-home services agency (IHSA) nurse needs to be able to contact the appropriate ordering medical team member expeditiously by phone or pager to review/clarify specific concerns or needs to have an established clear policy on how to proceed with managing the reaction.” 
  • Communication: “We identified the lack or inconsistency of on-call coverage by the primary medical team when home- or office-based infusions occur as a significant barrier to safely initiating or continuing home- or office-based infusion programs. Difficulty in reaching a knowledgeable team member is a breach in reliable care and represents serious patient risk.”
  • Related work: “In addition to administering the biologic infusion, executing all other infusion-related orders is an important safety consideration. Implementing unique home infusion protocols is linked to treatment efficacy.”  

Recommendation 2: Pediatric home- or office-based infusions, particularly for patients 12 years and younger, should be staffed by a pediatric nurse professional with Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS) certification and clinical experience with pediatric patients.

Recommendation 3: Evidence-based standard of care for biologic therapy maximizing effectiveness and treatment sustainability should be established before initiating home or office-based infusions.

Recommendation 4: Home- or office-based infusion pathways that decrease opportunity loss for patients and families and deliver high-quality, patient-centered care should be supported and reproduced.

Recommendation 5: Pediatric gastroenterologists should ensure appropriate shared liability with IHSAs to deliver high-quality care in home-based infusions for children by executing pragmatic steps as outlined below:

  1. “Document discussion with the patient and family about the indication, risks, and adverse event management …
  2. Refer the patient to an accredited, licensed IHSA based on patient’s insurance coverage. If no accredited, licensed IHSA for the pediatric patient exists, this is grounds for not initiating home- or office-based infusions…
  3. & 4. Use an infusion protocol… with clear directives on recognition of signs/symptoms of reactions and administration of reaction medications and use of EMS or parent transport to an emergency room.
  4. Maintain accurate documentation and communication of therapy type, dose, and frequency.
  5. Provide a reliable communication mechanism for the IHSA to notify provider of changes or infusion-related events
  6. Regularly reviewing ongoing IHSA performance with regard to delivery of services, accurate laboratory ordering and turnaround time, safety and quality concerns and timely redressal of these issues.
  7. Switch to another IHSA if the performance reliability is unsatisfactory. …we acknowledge that changing IHSAs may be difficult.”

Recommendation 6: A more equitable division of labor should be established to offset increased administrative burden placed on the pediatric gastroenterologist and medical team to effectively facilitate and maintain home- or office-based infusions, especially when driven by payer-mandated policies.

Recommendation 7: …Among patients receiving home- or office-based infusions, unreliable follow-up care with the provider as scheduled is grounds for discontinuation of home- or office-based biologic therapy.

Recommendation 8: A proper appeals process should be in place to prevent cost transference from payer to patient in payer-mandated decisions for home- or office-based infusions.

Our office practice:

  • Emergencies: In our office, there is always one physician dedicated to being available to assess patients who are receiving infusions.  This helps insure safety and in addition, helps to make sure that minor medical problems do not needlessly postpone important treatment.
  • Documentation: With our office-based infusions, each infusion is documented by the administering nurse.  This documentation along with labs are embedded in the medical record (EPIC) to help modify treatment.
  • Communication: In our office, prior to each infusion, each patient’s chart is reviewed and specific orders are given.  This assures that needed blood tests/imaging, additional treatments (eg. iron infusion), insurance authorizations, necessary followup, and personalized adjustments are made.  This type of communication needs to be replicated for home-based infusions; hence, the use of home-based infusions could result in a huge increase in uncompensated work for the treating physician.

My take: In my experience, office-based infusions can be provided safely and in a cost-effective manner.  While the convenience of home-based infusion is desirable, before implementing broadly, issues regarding communication, safety protocols, and documentation to allow modifications in therapy need to be proactively addressed. Families may not realize some of the complexities involved in managing infusions and how these issues could affect their child’s long-term response to biologic therapy.

Related blog posts:

The following image relates to another convenience-related health trend:

Disclaimer: These blog posts are for educational purposes only. Specific dosing of medications/diets (along with potential adverse effects) should be confirmed by prescribing physician/nutritionist.  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.

When Remicade is Stopped and Restarted (More Data)


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Bioequivalence of Biosimilars

From Annals of Internal Medicine: Bioequivalence of Biosimilar TNF-α Inhibitors

Ann Intern Med. Published online August 2016 doi:10.7326/M16-0428


Background: Biosimilars are of growing clinical, regulatory, and commercial importance.

Purpose: To summarize evidence about the bioequivalence between biosimilar and reference tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) inhibitors.

Data Sources: PubMed, EMBASE, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, and LILACS from inception through 13 April 2016 and, World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform, EU Clinical Trials Register, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and European Medicines Agency from inception through 30 April 2016.

Study Selection: Published English-language studies of any size or design that compared the pharmacokinetics, clinical efficacy, adverse events, or immunogenicity of a biosimilar TNF-α inhibitor with a reference biologic in humans.

Data Extraction: Two reviewers independently screened titles and abstracts, extracted data from selected studies, and assessed study quality.

Data Synthesis: Of 19 eligible studies, 8 were phase 1 randomized trials, 5 were phase 3 randomized trials, and 6 were observational studies. Most phase 1 trials (n = 7) involved healthy volunteers, phase 3 trials involved patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and observational studies involved those with rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease. All phase 1 trials showed that pharmacokinetic parameters of the biosimilar and respective biologic were within the prespecified equivalence margin of 80% to 125%. Phase 3 trials suggested similar clinical responses and adverse events. Adverse events were usually of mild to moderate severity. Two cross-sectional observational studies showed cross-reactivity between products, whereas 4 cohort studies of patients switched from reference to biosimilar products suggested similar efficacy and safety outcomes.

Limitation: Possible publication bias, small sample sizes of many studies, and lack of published studies for several biosimilars.

Conclusion: Preliminary evidence supports the biosimilarity and interchangeability of biosimilar and reference TNF-α inhibitors.

Screen Shot 2016-09-01 at 8.58.45 PM


Withdrawing Therapy Leads To Relapse, Even if in Deep Remission

A recent study, presented as an oral abstract (thanks to Jeff Lewis for forwarding this reference), indicates that even in patients in deep remission, withdrawal of anti-TNF therapy leads to relapse in about 50% even when thiopurines are continued; this is in agreement with previous posts (see below).

Full abstract: OP007 Relapse after Deep Remission in Crohn’s disease. Here are the results and conclusion from the abstract:


Sixty one patients were included and followed-up for a median of 28 months (range 7-47). After withdrawal of anti- TNFa therapy (44 infliximab and 17 adalimumab) 47 (77%) patients continued thiopurines. 32 (52.5%) patients relapsed until the end of follow-up with a median time to relapse of 8 months (range 1-25). The cumulative probability of maintaining remission was 82% at 6 months, 59% at 1 year and 51% at 2 years. Analysis of 28 patients who were in deep remission (endoscopic healing; faecal calprotectin <150mg/kg; CRP <5mg/l) revealed no better survival (82%, 64% and 40% at 6 months, 1 and 2 years, respectively). Four (8%) of relapsing CD patients required surgery 5 to 19 months after anti-TNFa cessation (2 for new stricture development, 1 for medically refractory flare and 1 for high grade dysplasia). In multivariate model only disease localization was risk factor of disease relapse (colonic vs. ileal/ileocolonic: OR 0.16, 95%CI: 0.03-0.72; p=0.02). Type of anti- TNFa preparation, smoking, disease behaviour, corticosteroid or thiopurine therapy, biological markers and anti-TNFa trough levels did not impact disease relapse.


Approximately half of CD patients relapsed within 2 years after anti- TNFa discontinuation despite being in endoscopic remission when anti-TNFa was stopped. The highest relapse rate was observed during the 1st year. Ileal disease increased the risk of disease flare, while no other risk factor was identified.

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Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Anti-TNF Therapies: Safe in Pregnancy

According a review (Inflamm Bowel Dis 2014; 20: 1862-69) of 5 studies with 1216 patients, “the use of anti-TNFα therapy does not seem to increase the risk of unfavorable pregnancy outcomes among women with IBD, although the optimal timing of therapy through pregnancy and the postpartum period was not assessed.”

Other important points:

  • “Current recommendations suggest that anti-TNFα therapies be continued during the first 2 trimesters of pregnancy.”  Withholding of infliximab and adalimumab during the third trimester is due to concerns of increased drug levels in infants.
  • Live virus vaccination should “be avoided for the first 6 months in children who had exposure to anti-TNFα therapies in utero.”

Related blog posts:

More Lessons in TNF Therapy (Part 2)

Another useful study (Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2014; 12: 1474-81, editorial 1482-84 [podcast available: on infliximab (IFX) usage addresses the issue of reinitiating IFX therapy after a “drug holiday.”

The authors conducted their retrospective single-center study in Belgium.  This detail is important as interruption of therapy is more common in Europe where agents like IFX are often stopped when patients are doing well.  In the U.S. stopping IFX occurs more commonly when there are antibodies to infliximab (ATIs) or increased clinical symptoms.  In this particularly study, 22% were restarted on IFX after loss of response (despite dose optimization) and the remainder had been stopped either due to remission, pregnancy or patient decision. Also, in their center, patients do not receive IFX unless they were allergic or refractory to steroids and/or immunomodulators for a minimum of 3 months.

In total there were 128 patients (105 with Crohn’s and 23 with ulcerative colitis).

Key findings:

  • Reintroduction of IFX resulted in a clinical response in 84.5% at week 14, 70% at 1 year, and 61% at more than 4 years.
  • Higher response was noted in those who discontinued because of remission: 90% at week 14, 77.5% at 1 year, and 66.6% at more than 4 years.
  • In patients with prior loss of response, 45% had response to reintroduction of IFX at 1 year.
  • 15 patients had acute infusion reactions, seven of these were severe.
  • ATI-positivity was associated with a higher risk of infusion reaction, though most ATI-positive patients did not develop a reaction.  Particularly in ATI-positive patients, the editorial recommends a “slow infusion protocol and possibly steroids before administration of the drug.”
  • The editorial states: “it seems reasonable to check drug levels and antibodies before the second infliximab dose.” Trough levels >2 mcg/mL and undetectable ATIs early after restarting the drug were associated with good responses. “For patients with high ATIs (≥9.1 U/mL), another drug should be considered.”
  • Among those with detectable ATIs, response at 1 year was noted in 54.8%.
  • Immunomodulator cotherapy had a beneficial effect.

Bottomline: This study provides useful insights for patients who need to reinitiate IFX treatment.  In addition, some IFX failures may be able to resume IFX after a drug holiday.

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Safety Signal for Anti-TNFs

In a large population of inflammatory bowel disease patients, anti-tumor necrosis factor medications (anti-TNFs) did not increase the risk of cancer in a recent study from Denmark.  This link provides a summary of the study (JAMA 2014 June 17 [doi:10.1001/jama.2014.5613]) in GI & Hepatology News: Anti-TNFs -Safety Signal

Here’s an excerpt:

This study “assessed the risks of any cancer and 11 individual cancers, including malignant melanoma, in 56,146 IBD patients aged 15 and older…during 1999-2012, of whom 4,553 took TNF-alpha antagonists.  Median follow-up was 9.3 years…A total of 6.7% of the patients who never took TNF-alpha antagonists developed cancer during follow-up compared with 1.8% of patients who took the drugs…

Stratifying for cancer risk according to years since first exposure, no specific time-dependent pattern was observed in our study…an increased risk in the long term cannot be excluded.”

In another systemic review study (Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology Volume 12, Issue 9, Pages 1443–1451, September 2014) focused on pediatric IBD patients (n=5528), the authors found that “Two patients developed lymphoma (2.1/10,000 PYF). This value was … lower than the population of pediatric patients receiving thiopurine monotherapy (4.5/10,000 PYF; SIR, 0.47; 95% CI, 0.03–6.44)”…”the risk of lymphoma was no greater among children with IBD who received anti-TNF therapy than those treated with other IBD therapies or adults treated with anti-TNF agents. The rate of serious infection was significantly lower among pediatric patients with IBD treated with anti-TNF agents than those treated with steroids, or adults with IBD who received anti-TNF therapy.”  Here’s the link: anti-TNF therapy with lower lymphoma risk than thiopurines in pediatrics

Comparing Biologics for Ulcerative Colitis

A recent study has reviewed biologic therapies for ulcerative colitis (Ann Intern Med. 2014;160(10):704-711). Here’s the abstract link:

Data Synthesis: ..There were 7 double-blind, placebo-controlled trials that were rated as low risk of bias and showed that all biological agents (adalimumab, golimumab, infliximab, and vedolizumab) resulted in more clinical responses, clinical remissions, and mucosal healings than placebo for induction therapy. The results of network meta-analysis suggested that infliximab is more effective to induce clinical response (odds ratio, 2.36 [95% credible interval, 1.22 to 4.63]) and mucosal healing (odds ratio, 2.02 [95% credible interval, 1.13 to 3.59]) than adalimumab. No other indirect comparison reached statistical significance. For maintenance, 6 double-blind, placebo-controlled trials that were rated high risk of bias showed that all biological agents have greater clinical efficacy than placebo. The occurrence of adverse events was not different between biological agents and placebo.

Limitation: Few trials, no head-to-head comparisons, and inadequate follow-up in maintenance trials.

Conclusion: Biological agents are effective treatments for UC, but head-to-head trials are warranted to establish the best therapeutic option.

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Infliximab Compared to Adalimumab -Which is Better?

Pharmaceutical companies are not motivated to provide a definitive answer on the title question.  A recent study (Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2014; 12: 811-17) states that “head-to-head clinical trials of anti-TNF therapies are unlikely to ever be undertaken because of the extreme cost to conduct such studies and the financial risk that such trials would entail for the manufacturers.”  The two most popular biologics, infliximab (IFX) and adalimumab (ADA), for inflammatory bowel disease have been incredibly successful (Multi-billion dollar biologics | gutsandgrowth).

The current study is “one of the first to directly compare the effectiveness” of IFX and ADA for Crohn’s disease.  The authors retrospectively examined a U.S. Medicare data cohort from 2006-2010 and identified new users with 1459 IFX and 871 ADA patients.  While 94% of Medicare enrollees are >65 years, this study had a range of patient ages due to those who received Medicare due to disability.  In fact, in the ADA group, ~60% were between 30-60 years and in the IFX group, ~44% were in this age group.

Key result:

  • After 26 weeks of treatment, 49% of patients receiving IFX remained on drug compared with 47% of those receiving ADA.
  • Fewer patients with IFX underwent surgery (5.5 vs 6.9 surgeries per 100 person-years) but this did not reach statistical significance.
  • Rates of hospitalization did not differ among the two groups

While persistence is an imperfect measure of effectiveness, the fact that surgeries and hospitalizations were similar indicates that the medications are likely to have similar clinical effectiveness, at least in this population.  Data on mucosal healing, more direct measures of effectiveness, and longer followup certainly would strengthen this conclusion.