Background: Treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) has tremendously improved during the last 20 years; however, a substantial fraction of patients does not respond to available therapies or lose response, and new strategies are needed.
Summary: Two pharmacological principles have been successfully used for IBD treatment: inhibition of cellular signaling and interference with leukocyte trafficking. Besides tumor necrosis factor, interleukin (IL)-23 is a promising drug target, and antibodies for the combined inhibition of IL-23 and IL-12 (ustekinumab and briakinumab) or selective IL-23 inhibition (brazikumab, risankizumab, and mirikizumab) seem to be effective in Crohn's disease (CD) with emerging evidence also for ulcerative colitis (UC). Janus kinase (JAK) mediates intracellular signaling of a large number of cytokines. Tofacitinib is the first JAK inhibitor approved for UC, and the JAK inhibitors filgotinib and upadacitinib showed potential in CD. Leukocyte trafficking can be inhibited by interference with lymphocyte integrin-alpha 4 beta 7 or endothelial MadCAM-1. The alpha 4 beta 7 integrin inhibitor vedolizumab is an established treatment in IBD, and long-term data of pivotal studies are now available. Additional molecules with therapeutic potential are alpha 4 beta 7-specific abrilumab, beta 7-specific etrolizumab, and the alpha 4-specific small molecule AJM300. PF-00547659, an antibody against endothelial MadCAM-1, also showed therapeutic potential in UC. Modulation of sphingosine-1-phosphate receptor (S1PR) activity is necessary for the egress of lymphocytes into the circulation, and S1PR modulation results in lymphocyte trapping in lymphatic organs. Ozanimod, an S1PR1 and S1PR5 inhibitor, has been successfully tested in initial studies in UC. Mesenchymal stem cell therapy has been approved for the treatment of complex, active CD fistula, and mesenchymal stem cell therapy might be a paradigm shift for this condition. Autologous stem cell transplantation (ASCT) has been successfully used in CD case series; however, in a randomized trial, a highly stringent endpoint was not met. However, considering positive effects in secondary endpoints, ASCT might be a future treatment of last resort in severe, refractory CD cases, provided that safer protocols can be provided.
Key messages: New IBD treatments are successful for a significant fraction of patients. However, new strategies for patient selection, treatment combinations, and/or additional therapies must be developed to serve the need of all IBD patients.