Background: Infliximab, a chimeric monoclonal antibody to tumour necrosis factor-alpha, is a new potent therapy for active Crohn's disease, but induces short-lived improvements.
Aim: To evaluate the efficacy of thalidomide, a drug with anti-tumour necrosis factor-alpha activity, for the maintenance of infliximab-induced response in refractory Crohn's disease.
Methods: Fifteen patients with severe, refractory disease (10 females, five males; mean age, 40 years; eight with luminal disease, two with fistulizing disease and five with both luminal and fistulizing disease) were started on thalidomide (100 mg daily), 29 +/- 10 days after they had responded to infliximab (5 mg/kg infusions).
Results: The median follow-up period was 238 days (range, 10-458 days) from the initiation of thalidomide and 265 days (range, 10-537 days) from the last infliximab infusion. The median Crohn's disease activity indices were 322 (range, 170-525), 119 (range, 24-503) and 35 (range, -60-360) before infliximab, at the initiation of thalidomide and at the end of follow-up, respectively. Remission rates on thalidomide were 92%, 83% and 83% at 3, 6 and 12 months, respectively, after the last infliximab infusion (Kaplan-Meier). Four patients (two in remission) stopped thalidomide for suspected adverse effects. Side-effects (drowsiness, rash and peripheral neuropathy) were mild and mostly transient.
Conclusions: Thalidomide appears to be an effective and relatively safe drug to maintain response to infliximab in chronically active and fistulizing refractory Crohn's disease.