Objective: To evaluate the efficacy of oral tacrolimus as an induction agent in steroid-refractory severe colitis.
Study design: Open-label, multicenter trial of oral tacrolimus in patients with severe colitis. Patients not responding to conventional therapy received tacrolimus, 0.1 mg/kg/dose given twice a day, and the dosage was adjusted to achieve blood levels between 10 and 15 ng/mL. Response was defined as improvement in a number of clinical parameters (including abdominal pain, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, and cessation of transfusions). Patients who responded by 14 days continued to receive tacrolimus, and 6-mercaptopurine or azathioprine was added as a steroid-sparing agent 4 to 6 weeks after the tacrolimus was instituted.
Results: Fourteen patients were enrolled in the study. One patient elected to withdraw after 48 hours. Of the 13 remaining, 9 (69%) responded and were discharged. Tacrolimus was continued for 2 to 3 months in the responders, except for 1 patient who was given tacrolimus for 11 months. After 1 year of follow-up, only 5 (38%) patients were receiving maintenance therapy; the other 4 responders had undergone colectomy.
Conclusion: Although tacrolimus is effective induction therapy for severe ulcerative or Crohn's colitis, fewer than 50% of patients treated will successfully achieve a long-term remission.