Clinical Remission: Trust But Verify

A recent study reminded me of the slogan ‘trust but verify.’ This slogan was popularized by Ronald Reagan in nuclear disarmament talks with the U.S.S.R. In contrast, C Sarbagili-Shabat et al (JPGN 2021; 72: 569-573. Moderate-to-severe Endoscopic Inflammation is Frequent After Clinical Remission in Pediatric Ulcerative Colitis) discuss the issue of clinical remission in ulcerative colitis.

This study  prospectively assessed for mucosal healing by endoscopy 3 to 5 months after clinical remission, PUCAI <10, was documented. Key findings:

  • 28 children in continuous clinical remission at time of sigmoidoscopy were included. Mayo 0 was present in 12/28 (43%), Mayo 1 in 2/28 (7%) and Mayo 2 to 3 in 14/28 (50%) endoscopies.
  • Among 23 patients with follow-up through 18 months, remission was sustained in 6/12 (50%) with Mayo score 0 to 1 versus 2/11 (18%) of patients with Mayo 2 and 3
  • 16 (57%) of the patients were receiving 5-ASA treatment

It would have been helpful to have calprotectin values as well. In their discussion, the authors note that “a normal calprotectin is quite convincing with regard to endoscopic remission” and ECCO ESPGHAN guidelines “provide guidance that a colonoscopy should only be performed if fecal calprotectin” is >250 mcg/g.

My take: Clinical remission in ulcerative colitis should be verified. It is reasonable to start with a fecal calprotectin and if elevated to proceed with endoscopic evaluation (colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy).

Also: new therapy for Crohn’s disease with favorable phase III study. From Pharmacy Times: Risankizumab (Skyrizi) Demonstrates Significant Improvements In Patients with Crohn Disease Two studies, ADVANCE and MOTIVATE showed similar results for Crohn’s disease. In the ADVANCE study: “40% of patients receiving 600 mg, and 32% of patients receiving 1200 mg achieved endoscopic response at week 12, compared to 12% in the placebo group.” In the MOTIVATE study, “29% and 34% of patients receiving 600 mg and 1200 mg achieved endoscopic response, respectively, compared to 11% in the placebo group.”

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Results in population with reported clinical remission (Sarbagili-Shabat et al JPGN 2021; 72: 569-573)

Budesonide for Maintaining EoE Remission

A Straumann et al. Gastroenterology 2020; Free Full Text Link: Budesonide Orodispersible Tablets Maintain Remission in a Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Patients With Eosinophilic Esophagitis

Methods: Two hundred and four adults with EoE in clinical and histologic remission, from 29 European study sites, were randomly assigned to groups given budesonide orodispersible tablet (BOT) 0.5 mg twice daily (n = 68), BOT 1.0 mg twice daily (n = 68), or placebo twice daily (n = 68) for up to 48 weeks

Key Findings:

  • At end of treatment, 73.5% of patients receiving BOT 0.5 mg twice daily and 75% receiving BOT 1.0 mg twice daily were in persistent remission compared with 4.4% of patients in the placebo group (P < .001 for both comparisons of BOT with placebo)
  • Four patients receiving BOT developed asymptomatic, low serum levels of cortisol. Clinically manifested candidiasis was suspected in 16.2% of patients in the BOT 0.5 mg group and in 11.8% of patients in the BOT 1.0 mg group; all infections resolved with treatment

In the discussion, the authors state that “we recommend monitoring symptoms and signs of adrenal insufficiency when administrating topical-acting corticosteroids over prolonged time periods, in particular in children and when using higher dosages.”

My take (from discussion): “EoE requires a proper long-term anti-inflammatory therapy because, without active treatment, the vast majority of patients experience a relapse within the first 100 days after cessation of the medication.”

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Marriage, Divorce and Separation with Anti-TNF Therapy

This review article (Inflamm Bowel Dis 2014; 20: 757-66) examines the question of whether and when anti-tumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF) agents can be stopped in Crohn’s disease (CD) patients in remission.  This topic is particularly helpful since this comes up frequently in clinical practice.

As recently as a few years ago, one expert advised me that starting an anti-TNF agent (like infliximab or adalimumab) was like getting married.  Once you committed, you stayed in that relationship indefinitely.  Of course, it is well-known that individuals get divorced.  In medical terms, I guess that would be the equivalent of developing antibodies to the anti-TNF agent or other adverse reactions.  Switching from one anti-TNF to another would be equivalent to marital infidelity.

So what does this review article say about all of this?  The article examines nine studies with a little more than 500 patients.  “Current evidence suggests that a group of CD patients, possibly 30% to 40% in clinical remission while on IM (immunomodulators) and infliximab can stop the latter and maintain clinical remission for a relatively long interval.  It seems that, if followed long enough, virtually all patients (including those on IM) will eventually develop clinical recurrence.”

If tempted to separate but not divorce anti-TNF therapy, the authors recommend, in addition to clinical remission, “normal colonoscopy (and/or normal surrogate markers of disease activity) should be adopted as a criterion when stopping therapy and during follow-up….As of today, many authors do not recommend to routinely stop anti-TNF agents in patients responding to this therapy and in the absence of other issues.  Others propose to stop them after a minimum of 2 years of clinical and endoscopic remission or longer if only clinical remission can be documented…

If costs or other issues are present, we suggest to cautiously stop anti-TNF agents only in patients on combination therapy with profound (clinical, biochemical, and endoscopic) and long lasting (>1 year) remission and continuing the IM.  Such patients should be closely followed by serial determinations of fecal calprotectin and inflammatory indices, and the medication immediately restarted in the presence of a flare. When in doubt, colonoscopy should be performed.

Take-home message: Most patients are better off staying married to their anti-TNF therapy.

Also noted: Inflamm Bowel Dis 2014; 20: 742-56.  Clinical Utility of Fecal Biomarkers for the Diagnosis and Management of Inflammatory Bowel Disease.  This is a useful review with 103 references.

Remission in Crohn’s Disease

A recent article highlights the issue of remission in Crohn’s disease (CD) (Inflamm Bowel Dis 2013; 19: 1645-53).

As noted in previous blog entries (see links below), improvements in remission with ImproveCareNow and with previous drug trials have several limitations due to the current definition of remission.  Currently, even during periods of clinical remission (defined currently mainly by symptoms), laboratory or endoscopic evidence of persistent inflammation can be seen.  Persistent inflammation is likely to lead to progressive bowel damage. With the advent of more effective treatments as well as better biomarkers, a more objective measure of remission is needed.

“Remission is an evolving concept in CD. At its most fundamental level, remission should be a state with little or no risk of disease progression, likely implying the absence of biological evidence of inflammation.”

The authors proposed definitions of remission based on whether the patient has “early” disease or “late” disease.  Early disease “may be defined as disease duration ≤18 months without previous exposure to immunosuppressants or biologics.”

Early disease:

  • Biologic remission (inflammation control): a) mucosal healing on colonoscopy (no ulcers with the exception of a few aphthous ulcers <5 mm in diameter) and/or b) improvements in serum and fecal biomarkers: CRP < 5 mg/L, fecal calprotectin <250 mcg/g
  • Clinical remission in practice (symptom control): complete absence of symptoms; 1-2 formed stools per day without abdominal pain.  In a clinical trial, CDAI <150 points.
  • Outcomes: no disease progression or complications, normal quality of life

Late disease:

  • Biologic remission (inflammation control): a) mucosal healing on colonoscopy (no ulcers with the exception of a few aphthous ulcers <5 mm in diameter) and/or b) improvements in serum and fecal biomarkers: CRP < 5 mg/L, fecal calprotectin <250 mcg/g
  • Clinical remission (symptom control): a: inflammatory symptom improvement (may have residual symptoms due to previous damage or surgery). In clinical trial, CDAI 150-220 points.
  • Outcome: stabilization of noninflammatory symptoms and no progression of structural damage, improved quality of life

The authors goal is to rework remission to include symptom control and histologic/mucosal healing.  This concept is not novel.  Investigators in the adalimumab EXTEND study coined the term “deep remission.” This term referred to patients with both CDAI remission and complete mucosal healing.  Patients who achieved deep remission had improved outcomes, including fewer hospitalizations and fewer surgical resections (Gut 2010; 59: A80).

Bottomline: Improvements in both objective measures of biologic inflammation along with resolution of clinical symptoms are needed to change the long-term outcome for patients with Crohn’s disease.  The definition of remission should reflect this reality.

“When you can measure what you are speaking about and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind” –Lord Kelvin 1883

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