Newly approved drug is a major advancement for patients with ulcerative colitis

November 2, 2023 Swedish News

The new drug provides another option for patients who require an advanced treatment option or who desire an alternative to an injectable medication. 

A breakthrough treatment for the painful condition inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) was approved in early October by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Michael Chiorean, M.D., co-director of the IBD Center at Swedish Medical Center, was an investigator in the study that helped win approval for the new drug, etrasimod, which is marketed under the brand name Velsipity. 

Etrasimod is a major advance in the treatment of ulcerative colitis (UC), a chronic digestive disorder estimated to effect some 5 million people worldwide. The oral, once-daily pill was granted approval after a clinical trial showed a reduction in disease symptoms for patients who took the drug compared with those who took a placebo.

Etrasimod helped 27% of patients achieve remission of ulcerative colitis symptoms after 12 weeks on the drug, versus about 7% for those taking a placebo; it was a major increase compared to remission rates of the most comparable drug currently available. The new drug may have an additional advantage over other drugs for UC treatments that are given by injection.

“Because of the unpredictable nature of UC, people living with the disease can cycle through several different treatments over time. Patients may also be apprehensive about using injectable therapies, like biologics,” says Dr. Chiorean. “It’s important to have new, effective options for those patients who may require an advanced treatment option and prefer the convenience of a once-daily pill.”

What is ulcerative colitis?

UC is thought to be an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks digestive tract cells causing inflammation in the innermost lining of the large intestine and the rectum. For many people, the condition causes debilitating pain. The condition can run in families, and some studies have shown it can be more prevalent among people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.

The symptoms of ulcerative colitis, which can go into remission, may include:

  • Diarrhea, often with blood or pus
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Rectal pain
  • Urgency to defecate, or an inability to defecate despite urgency
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Fever

Treatment for ulcerative colitis

The range of medications for UC includes anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticosteroids, immune system suppressors and biologics that target proteins made by the immune system. In severe cases, surgery may also be a treatment option.

“This medicine is a whole new class of molecule and a new mechanism of action that works on our immune system,” adds Dr. Chiorean. “It also works for patients for whom other drugs have failed.”

Learn more and find a provider

Swedish experts provide holistic gastroenterology care, including naturopathy and psychology services. Swedish IBD care is coordinated by a multidisciplinary team which includes top IBD gastroenterologists and colorectal surgeons, experienced dietitians, nurses and clinical researchers. To learn more contact one of our experts at the Swedish Digestive Institute or use our provider directory to find a clinician who is right for you.

Additional resources

Etrasimod as induction and maintenance therapy for ulcerative colitis (ELEVATE): two randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, phase 3 studies | The Lancet

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

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