Infliximab: Use in inflammatory bowel disease

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Opinion statement

Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC) are chronic and often debilitating inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) without medical cures. Despite the existence of multiple therapies, the medical treatment of these diseases often has proven insufficient and surgery is frequently required. However, as our understanding of the pathogenesis of these disorders and other immune-mediated inflammatory diseases (eg, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis) has grown, new and more specific biologic therapies have been developed that are proving more effective than traditional agents. Infliximab is a genetically engineered monoclonal antibody that targets the proinflammatory cytokine tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) and represents the first effective biologic therapy for IBD and has largely revolutionized treatment. Infliximab initially was developed to be used in patients with moderate to severe luminal or fistulizing CD who are refractory to standard medical therapy. More and more practitioners now are using infliximab as first-line therapy because of its superior efficacy. Infliximab rapidly induces remission in CD, but when given chronically, it can provide long-term maintenance of remission. In addition, there are some data to support its use as a steroid-sparing agent and treatment for various extraintestinal manifestations of IBD and, although used predominantly to treat CD, recent data suggest that infliximab also may have a role in the management of UC. Overall, infliximab represents a clinically useful, cost-effective therapy that works well, even though careful patient monitoring is required to avoid rare but significant toxicities. The hope is that infliximab, together with other biologic agents that currently are in development, will allow us to modify the course of IBD, avoid complications such as strictures and abscesses, and reduce the need for surgery.