Combination Therapy with Adalimumab -Is it Helpful?

A recent study (JM Chalbhoub et al. Inflamm Bowel Dis 2017; 23: 1316-27) performed a systematic review and meta-analysis to examine the effectiveness of Adalimumab (ADA) combination therapy compared with monotherapy.  With infliximab (IFX), the SONIC study, showed that combination therapy with an immunomodulator (IMM) (azathioprine) improved response; combination therapy resulted in reduced immunogenicity, lower rates of infusion reactions, and higher IFX levels.

With the advent of widespread use of therapeutic drug monitoring, some have questioned the need for combination therapy with IFX.  The need for combination therapy for ADA is also a matter of debate.  ADA has less immunogenicity than IFX and it is unclear if combination therapy will improve outcomes. There have been conflicting studies regarding combination therapy with ADA, prompting the current meta-analysis.

The authors identified 24 articles for inclusion from an initial pool of 1194. Key findings:

  • No significant difference between combination therapy and monotherapy was noted for induction of remission (OR 0.86) or response (OR 1.01). The induction of remission is based on data from 3096 patients (1400 on combination treatment).
  • No difference was noted for maintenance of remission (OR 0.97) or response (OR 0.91). The maintenance of remission is based on data from 1885 patients (859 on combination treatment).
  • Patients receiving combination therapy had lower odds of developing antidrug antibodies (OR 0.24)
  • Subgroup analysis in anti-TNF experienced patients showed improved successful induction of remission (OR 1.26) but also more frequent opportunistic infections (OR 2.44)

Overall, the authors conclude that “combination of ADA and immunomodulators does not seem superior to ADA monotherapy for induction and maintenance of remission and response to Crohn’s disease.” They do comment on the recent DIAMOND study which was a randomized open-label top-down strategy trial in anti-TNF-naive and IMM-naïve patients.  While no overall advantage of combination therapy was evident, better endoscopic response (84% vs. 64% with monotherapy) was seen at 26 weeks (but not at 52 weeks).

This study has several limitations.  Overall, there were a small number of randomized trials and the trials had significant heterogeneity.

My take (borrowed from authors): “It is unclear whether the addition of IMM impacts the efficacy of a less immunogenic anti-TNF biologic such as ADA in CD.” Though, in the subgroup of anti-TNF exposed patients, “combination therapy was associated with higher odds of induction of remission.”

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Should Methotrexate Be Used For Ulcerative Colitis?

A recent study (F Carbonnel et al. Gastroenterol, article in press; thanks to KT Park twitter feed for reference) with 111 patients provides more questions than answers.  It appears that methotrexate improved clinical remission but the overall difference is fairly small; the abstract is below.

My initial impression: Immunomodulators (including methotrexate and thiopurines) have some efficacy as monotherapy agents in patients with inflammatory bowel disease. Their role as part of combination therapy (with anti-TNF agents) has been associated with improved outcomes but how long to use combination therapy and at what dosage is still being worked out.

Here’s the abstract and a link: Methotrexate is not Superior to Placebo in Inducing Steroid-free Remission, but Induces Steroid-free Clinical Remission in a Larger Proportion of Patients with Ulcerative Colitis

Background & Aims

Parenteral methotrexate is an effective treatment for patients with Crohn’s disease but has never been adequately evaluated in patients with ulcerative colitis (UC). We conducted a randomized controlled trial to determine its safety and efficacy in patients with steroid-dependent UC.


We performed a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to evaluate the efficacy of parenteral methotrexate (25 mg/week) in 111 patients with corticosteroid-dependent UC at 26 medical centers in Europe, from 2007 through 2013. Patients were given prednisone (10 to 40 mg/day) when the study began, and randomly assigned to groups (1:1) given placebo or methotrexate (intramuscularly or subcutaneously, 25 mg weekly) for 24 weeks. The primary endpoint was steroid-free remission (defined as a Mayo score ≤ 2 with no item > 1 and complete withdrawal of steroids) at week 16. Secondary endpoints included clinical remission (defined as a Mayo clinical subscore ≤ 2 with no item > 1) and endoscopic healing without steroids at weeks 16 and/or 24, remission without steroids at week 24, and remission at both weeks 16 and 24.


Steroid-free remission at week 16 was achieved by 19/60 patients given methotrexate (31.7%) and 10/51 patients given placebo (19.6%)—a difference of 12.1% (95% confidence interval [CI], –4.0% to 28.1%; P=.15). The proportions of patients in steroid-free clinical remission at week 16 were 41.7% in the methotrexate group and 23.5% in the placebo group, for a difference of 18.1% (95% CI, 1.1%–35.2%; P=.04). The proportions of patients with steroid-free endoscopic healing at week 16 were 35% in the methotrexate group and 25.5% in the placebo group—a difference of 9.5% (95% CI, –7.5% to 26.5%; P=.28). No differences were observed in other secondary endpoints. More patients receiving placebo discontinued the study because of adverse events (47.1%), mostly caused by UC, than patients receiving methotrexate (26.7%; P=.03). A higher proportion of patients in the methotrexate group had nausea and vomiting (21.7%) than in the placebo group (3.9%; P=.006).


In a randomized controlled trial, parenteral methotrexate was not superior to placebo for induction of steroid-free remission in patients with UC. However, methotrexate induced clinical remission without steroids in a significantly larger percentage of patients, resulting in fewer withdrawals from therapy due to active UC.

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Banning Mills

Banning Mills

Should All Pediatric Patients with Crohn’s Disease Continue Combination Therapy?

Among patients/families who are not in denial about their inflammatory bowel disease, especially Crohn’s disease, an important discussion is the use of combination therapy.  This has been discussed on this blog before (see some links below).  More data on this subject has been published and again favors the use of combination therapy (V Grossi, T Lerer, et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2015; 13: 1748-56).

This study collected data from 2002-2014 on 502 children who participated in a prospective multicenter study. This data was derived from an observational registry rather than a randomized trial, but likely reflects real-world experience with regard to newly diagnosed patients. The authors excluded those with prior biologic therapy and prior resectional surgery.


  • Children receiving combination immunomodulator (IM) treatment were more likely to have durable infliximab therapy at 1 year, 3 years, and 5 years.
  • Greater length of concomitant IMs was associated with better durability.
  • For patients who had IM > 6 months after starting infliximab (n=194), durability was 0.70 at 5 years compared with 0.55 for patients with IM <6 months (n=144), and 0.48 for those who did not receive IMs (n=135).
  • In boys, methotrexate appeared to be superior to thiopurines (P<.01): 0.98 at 5 yrs compared with 0.58.  However, there were 60 males receiving methotrexate.  In the study, only 21 females received methotrexate which limited any conclusions.

Among patients who stopped IFX, the reasons included loss of response (n=61, 43%), hypersensitivity reaction (n=41, 29%), elective (n=25, 18%), lost to f/u (n=5, 3%), and other causes (10, 7%).

The “right” dose of methotrexate as a combination agent remains unclear.  There was a wide range of dosing schedules in this study.  It is worth observing that the COMMIT study in adults found no significant difference in adults who received methotrexate in addition to infliximab compared with those receiving infliximab monotherapy.

Take-home message: In this large pediatric observational study, the use of immunomodulators increased the likely durability of infliximab.  Given prior conflicting data (particularly with regard to methotrexate), even more studies are needed to determine exactly how useful combination therapy is and when monotherapy will suffice.  From my viewpoint, I worry much more about loss of efficacy to infliximab than I worry about medication adverse effects.  As such, I will continue to inform families that combination therapy appears to improve infliximab durability.

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Mount Washburn, Yellowstone

Mount Washburn, Yellowstone

Why ImproveCareNow is Needed

A few recent articles make a strong argument for collaborative networks, like ImproveCareNow, to improve data collection to determine the most effective therapies.

  1. Kierkus J, et al. JPGN 2015; 60: 580-85.
  2. Audu GK, et al. JPGN 2015; 60: 586-91
  3. Dotson JL, et al. Inflamm Bowel Dis 2015; 21: 1109-14
  4. Saps M, et al. JPGN 2015; 60: 645-53.

A brief description of each study.

1. This study presented a multi-center randomized open-label trial of 99 pediatric patients with Crohn’s disease (CD) who were administered infliximab (IFX) along with an immunomodulator (azathioprine or methotrexate).  After a 10 week induction, 84 were randomized to either monotherapy for 54 weeks or dual therapy for 26 weeks. The authors did not find significant differences in response between the groups.  However, they reached a conclusion: “Twenty-six weeks likely represent (sic) the safe duration of combined IFX/immunomodulator therapy in our sample of pediatric patients with CD.”

2. The second study described three cases of chronic recurrent multifocal ostesomyelitis (CRMO) associated with inflammatory bowel disease.  They tried to identify all pediatric cases in UK in the last 10 years. (As an aside, I have treated one teenager with CRMO and ulcerative colitis.)

3. The third study is a retrospective single center of 30 patients with pediatric Crohn’s disease (CD) who developed intra-abdominal abscesses (IAA) over a 12-year period.  The authors note that this is “the largest single-center review of children and adolescents with CD and IAA to date.” Yet due to the small sample size, the study provides little guidance on this important medical problem; there were no predictors of successful medical or percutaneous drainage therapy.  In addition, with the increasing use of biologics, the authors note that “the issue of which patients will eventually require surgery is even less clear.” Changes in imaging (eg. MRE) and changes in medical management (eg. more enteral nutrition and less corticosteroids) are not discussed.

4. The fourth study is a comprehensive review of randomized placebo-controlled pharmacological clinical trials in children with functional abdominal pain disorders.  They found “no evidence to support the use of most commonly used drugs in children. Only 7 pharmacological RCTs on AP-FGIDs in children were found. Most studies were single center based and had a small sample size.  The methods and outcomes were heterogeneous…We found a considerable risk of bias in most studies…There is an urgent need for well-designed randomized clinical trials using age-appropriate validated outcome measures.”

Each of these studies makes a compelling argument for collaborative research networks.  The first study had a relatively small number of patients, short follow-up period, lack of blinding, and numerous methodological limitations.  How did the authors determine that 26 weeks was the time to stop dual therapy? Among adults with CD, a well-designed SONIC study (NEJM 2010; 362: 1383) showed the superiority of dual therapy during the study period.  In children, because of concerns about thiopurine safety, the best approach is still unclear. The second study identified only three patients despite examining a large population.  Similarly, the third study describes 30 patients with a common complication of CD but provides little insight.

The fourth study is a cautionary tale illustrating the lack of progress due to the absence of collaborative research.  Reports indicate a high prevalence of functional abdominal pain; one study indicated that abdominal pain affects “38% of school children weekly” (J Pediatr 2009; 154: 322-6).  In fact, studies on the high prevalence of this disorder dates back for 60 years (Apley, 1975; Apley & Hale, 1973; Apley & Naish, 1958). Despite the prevalence of this problem, the data for all of the treatments is poor.  The lack of progress in defining treatments for functional abdominal pain is multifactorial, including the following:

  • Cost: For many of the available treatments, there is not a financial incentive to conduct research.
  • Biomarker: lack of objective markers for improvement
  • Disease Stigma: many people attribute functional disorders as being due solely to psychological factors
  • Physician Champions: in pediatric gastroenterology, it took concerted physician efforts over many years to develop ImproveCareNow.  Similar physician champions would be needed to improve the outcomes for children with functional disorders

Bottomline: While ImproveCareNow has a lot of work ahead including improving data reliability and ascertaining accurate outcome measures, I think the effort is forward-thinking and will make a difference in understanding and treating children with IBD.  ImproveCareNow has more than 600 participating pediatric gastroenterologists and more than 20,000 patients. What I would like to see is a sister network to address the morbidity from functional disorders so that in 60 years (or sooner), we will be better equipped to treat children with abdominal pain that is not due to IBD.

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Fox Theater

Fox Theater

Methotrexate –First Choice Immunomodulator?

In pediatric inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), there has been an uptick in the usage of methotrexate (MTX) over the last 10 years.  This coincides with malignancy concerns, particularly hepatosplenic T-cell lymphoma, with thiopurine use.  Recently, a retrospective study examines the use of MTX in a cohort of 290 patients from 19 centers. 172 received monotherapy with MTX for >3 months and had at least one year of followup.

Key findings:

  • 81 of these 172 used MTX as their first immunomodulator (IMM) (monotherapy) and this had become more prevalent towards the end of the study period (60% in 2010).  Among these 81, 27% achieved a sustained clinical remission –based on physician global assessment.
  • 35% who used MTX as their second IMM achieved a sustained clinical remission.
  • Among MTX users, 15% had increased ALT (>60 IU/L) and 12% had white blood cells <4000 cells/mL.
  • There was wide variation in usage of MTX therapy among different pediatric centers.
  • According to Figure 2, there was little difference in the usage of MTX between males and females.  Given the well-recognized teratogenicity with MTX, it is interesting that the authors did not elaborate on this finding.

One limitation of this study was the absence of data regarding route of MTX administration. Oral bioavailability is likely a little lower than with parental dosing.  Another limitation was reliance on physician global assessment without correlating a marker for mucosal healing.

Take-home message: Methotrexate is being used more frequently as a first-line IMM.  As there are no head-to-head comparison studies with thiopurines, one can only speculate whether its efficacy and safety are good enough to chosen as the first immunomodulator.

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Superiority of Anti-TNF Therapy in Children

This study’s conclusion comes as no surprise:

“In children newly diagnosed with comparably severe CD, early monotherapy with anti-TNFα produced better overall clinical and growth outcomes at 1 year than early monotherapy with an immunomodulator. Further data will be required to best identify children most likely to benefit from early treatment with anti-TNFα therapy.”

Here’s the reference:

Gastroenterology Volume 146, Issue 2 , Pages 383-391, February 2014

Here’s a link to the full text article:  Increased Effectiveness of Early Therapy with Anti-Tumor Necrosis Factor-α Versus an Immunomodulator in Children with Crohn’s Disease

Methods: “From 2008 through 2012 at 28 pediatric gastroenterology centers in North America. Patients were managed by physician dictate. From 552 children (median age, 11.8 y; 61% male; 63% with pediatric CD activity index scores >30; and median C-reactive protein level 5.6-fold the upper limit of normal), we used propensity score methodology to identify 68 triads of patients matched for baseline characteristics who were treated with early anti-TNFα therapy, early immunomodulator, or no early immunotherapy.”

Another reference/link from same issue:

Accuracy of Magnetic Resonance Enterography in Assessing Response to Therapy and Mucosal Healing in Patients with Crohn’s Disease