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Possible new treatment for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis

Researchers behind two recent studies hope that a new drug, called vedolizumab, will form the basis of an effective treatment for both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
By David McNamee

BMJ Group News

What do we know already?

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When people have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, the lining of their intestine becomes swollen, which can be very painful. People who have either of these conditions can lose a lot of weight, feel tired all the time, and may bleed when they use the toilet. These diseases can also cause serious complications.

There is no cure for either condition. The treatments that doctors prescribe for these diseases are used to reduce the symptoms, rather than to make the disease go away. But the existing treatments aren’t suitable for everyone. Some people get side effects from drugs, such as corticosteroids, used to control Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. And for some people the drugs don’t help at all. So more treatment options for these conditions can only be a good thing.

Unlike some other drugs for Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis (called immunosuppressants) that work by affecting the whole immune system, vedolizumab only targets the digestive system, so the researchers hoped that the new drug might cause fewer and less-serious side effects than the standard treatments.

One of the new studies looked at the effects of vedolizumab on Crohn’s disease, and the other looked at the effects of vedolizumab on ulcerative colitis. The studies were designed in two stages. This is because the researchers wanted to find out two things. First, they wanted to know how many people vedolizumab might help. Second, they wanted to know if, in the people who were helped, the drug would keep working over a long period.

In the first stage of the studies, the people were randomly placed into groups that were given either vedolizumab or a dummy treatment (a placebo) for six weeks. Then the people who had benefited from treatment with vedolizumab were randomly divided into two groups. Again, they were given either the drug or a placebo, but this stage of the study lasted for a year.

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