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World J Gastroenterol. 2019 Mar 7;25(9):1142-1157. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v25.i9.1142.

Conventional therapy for moderate to severe inflammatory bowel disease: A systematic literature review.

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Department of Gastroenterology, University of São Paulo School of Medicine, São Paulo 05403-000, Brazil.
Department of Medical Affairs, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, São Paulo 04709-011, Brazil.
Department of Medical Affairs, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, São Paulo 04709-011, Brazil.



Despite the advent of biological drugs, conventional therapy continues to be used in moderate to severe inflammatory bowel disease (MS-IBD). This study hypothesized that as a standard of treatment and the primary alternative to biologics, conventional therapy should present robust effectiveness results in IBD outcomes.


To investigate the effectiveness of conventional therapy for MS-IBD.


A systematic review with no time limit was conducted in July 2017 through the Cochrane Collaboration, MEDLINE, and LILACS databases. The inclusion criteria encompassed meta-analyses, systematic reviews, randomized clinical trials, observational and case-control studies concerning conventional therapy in adult patients with MS-IBD, including Crohn's disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC). Corticosteroids (prednisone, hydrocortisone, budesonide, prednisolone, dexamethasone), 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA) derivatives (mesalazine and sulfasalazine) and immunosuppressants [azathioprine (AZA), methotrexate (MTX), mycophenolate, cyclosporine, tacrolimus, 6-mercaptopurine (6-MP)] were considered conventional therapy. The exclusion criteria were sample size below 50; narrative reviews; specific subpopulations (e.g., pregnant women, comorbidities); studies on postoperative IBD; and languages other than English, Spanish, French or Portuguese. The primary outcome measures were clinical remission (induction or maintenance), clinical response and mucosal healing. As secondary outcomes, fecal calprotectin, hospitalization, death, and surgeries were analyzed. The quality of the evidence was assessed using the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation criteria.


The search strategy identified 1995 citations, of which 27 were considered eligible (7 meta-analyses, 20 individual studies). For induction of clinical remission, four meta-analyses were selected (AZA and 6-MP showed no advantage over placebo, MTX or 5-ASA in CD; MTX showed no statistically significant difference versus placebo, 6-MP, or 5-ASA in UC; tacrolimus was superior to placebo for UC in two meta-analyses). Only one meta-analysis evaluated clinical remission maintenance, showing no statistically significant difference between MTX and placebo, 5-ASA, or 6-MP in UC. AZA and 6-MP had no advantage over placebo in induction of clinical response in CD. Three meta-analyses showed the superiority of tacrolimus vs placebo for induction of clinical response in UC. The clinical response rates for cyclosporine were 41.7% in randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and 55.4% in non-RCTs for UC. For induction of mucosal healing, one meta-analysis showed a favorable rate with tacrolimus versus placebo for UC. For secondary outcomes, no meta-analyses specifically evaluated fecal calprotectin, hospitalization or death. Two meta-analyses were retrieved evaluating colectomy rates for tacrolimus and cyclosporine in UC. Most of the twenty individual studies retrieved contained a low or very low quality of evidence.


High-quality evidence assessing conventional therapy in MS-IBD treatment is scarce, especially for remission maintenance, mucosal healing and fecal calprotectin.


6-Mercaptopurine; Azathioprine; Cyclosporine; Inflammatory bowel diseases; Mesalamine; Methotrexate; Mycophenolic acid; Steroids; Sulfasalazine; Tacrolimus

Conflict of interest statement

Conflict-of-interest statement: Adérson Omar Mourão Cintra Damião has been a speaker for Takeda, Abbvie, and Janssen; has been an advisory board member for Takeda; and has received conference grants from Janssen, Takeda and Abbvie. Matheus Freitas Cardoso de Azevedo and Alexandre de Sousa Carlos have received research grants from Takeda, Janssen, and Abbvie. Marcela Yumi Wada, Taciana Valéria Marcolino Silva and Flávio de Castro Feitosa work at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, Brazil.

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