FDA approves first oral medication for adults with moderately to severely active ulcerative colitis

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration today expanded the approval of Xeljanz (tofacitinib) to include adults with moderately to severely active ulcerative colitis. Xeljanz is the first oral medication approved for chronic use in this indication. Other FDA-approved treatments for the chronic treatment of moderately to severely active ulcerative colitis must be administered through an intravenous infusion or subcutaneous injection.

"New treatments are needed for patients with moderately to severely active ulcerative colitis," said Julie Beitz, M.D., director of the Office of Drug Evaluation III in FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "Today's approval provides an alternative therapy for a debilitating disease with limited treatment options."

Ulcerative colitis is a chronic, inflammatory bowel disease affecting the colon. Patients experience recurrent flares of abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea. Other symptoms include fatigue, weight loss and fever. More than 900,000 patients are affected in the U.S., many of them experiencing moderately to severely active ulcerative colitis, and there is currently no cure.

The efficacy of Xeljanz for the treatment of moderately to severely active ulcerative colitis was demonstrated in three controlled clinical trials. This included two 8-week placebo-controlled trials that demonstrated that 10 mg of Xeljanz given twice daily induces remission in 17 to 18 percent of patients by week eight. In a placebo-controlled trial among patients who achieved a clinical response by week eight, Xeljanz, at a 5 mg or 10 mg dose given twice daily, was effective in inducing remission by week 52 in 34 percent and 41 percent of patients, respectively. Among patients who achieved remission after 8 weeks of treatment, 35 percent and 47 percent achieved sustained corticosteroid-free remission when treated with 5 mg and 10 mg, respectively.

The safety of chronic use of Xeljanz for ulcerative colitis was studied in the 52-week placebo- controlled trial. Additional supportive safety information was collected from patients who received treatment in an open-label long-term study.

The most common adverse events associated with Xeljanz treatment for ulcerative colitis were diarrhea, elevated cholesterol levels, headache, herpes zoster (shingles), increased blood creatine phosphokinase, nasopharyngitis (common cold), rash and upper respiratory tract infection.

Less common serious adverse events included malignancy and serious infections such as opportunistic infections. Xeljanz has a boxed warning for serious infections and malignancy. Patients treated with Xeljanz are at increased risk for developing serious infections that may lead to hospitalization or death. Lymphoma and other malignancies have been observed in patients treated with Xeljanz.

Use of Xeljanz in combination with biological therapies for ulcerative colitis or with potent immunosuppressants, such as azathioprine and cyclosporine, is not recommended.

Xeljanz, made by Pfizer Labs, was previously approved in 2012 for rheumatoid arthritis and in 2017 for psoriatic arthritis.

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