In May 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved vedolizumab injection to treat adult patients with moderate to severe ulcerative colitis or Crohn‘s disease. This drug has a mechanism of action different from the four anti-TNF agents currently approved for IBD, and provides a new option for patients who are struggling to find the right treatment to help control their symptoms.

What’s more, there are several promising drugs in the development pipeline, for which further testing is underway. These treatments — once approved by FDA — will offer patients additional options for symptom relief.

Customized treatment

"There is hope that, by understanding the gut microbiome of IBD patients, we will be able to find probiotics that can effectively treat IBD. "

The concept of personalized medicine — where the treatment plan is customized to each specific patient — is making its way into the IBD world. Researchers are recognizing that the inflammatory signature of each IBD patient is unique, and disease can be set off by a variety of factors. If there are multiple pathways causing IBD, then different drugs will work differently for individual patients. Furthermore, there are probably individual differences in how patients process drugs. Personalized medicine offers the promise that — in the future — shortly after diagnosis, we can do a better job of predicting which drugs will work best for which patients, and which dose of drug is right for each patient.  

No two patients are alike

Each patient is also made up of a unique set of microorganisms and bacteria, known as the gut microbiome. There is hope that, by understanding the gut microbiome of IBD patients, we will be able to find probiotics that can effectively treat IBD. Probiotics are organisms — such as bacteria or yeast — that are believed to improve health. They are available in supplements and foods (such as yogurt).

In addition to hope, new treatment options bring new questions and concerns from patients, and rightly so. Managing IBD is complex as there is no one-size-fits-all approach. If you or a family member is living with IBD — or is planning to seek treatment for GI complaints — I strongly recommend you see a gastroenterologist. Gastroenterologists see many IBD patients and are comfortable prescribing the drugs that are used in IBD. Together, you can work with your physician to figure out the treatment option that is right for you.