Researchers from Ghent University Hospital have forced a breakthrough in the fight against intestinal fibrosis, a complication that occurs especially in patients with Crohn's disease. Today, intestinal fibrosis - the development of scar tissue in the intestines – can only be corrected with surgery. With a new drug, which first has to be tested extensively, this can possibly be avoided.
"The medicine we have tested decreases the formation of scar tissue and even partially shrinks existing fibrosis," says doctor Tom Holvoet, who is leading the research. "We found the cells that play an important role in the production of connective tissue. These cells are brought into a normal, resting state thanks to the new medicine. This means that they still perform their healing task in case of inflammation, but do not form any scar tissue."
The breakthrough is remarkable because relatively few researchers worldwide work on this problem. There also have not been a lot of successes yet. In the United States, another research group is working on a similar approach, but the researchers at the Ghent University Hospital already published the promising results in June in Gastroenterology.
Intestinal fibrosis occurs in the treatment of two chronic inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn's disease, affecting 1 in 200 people and, to a lesser extent, ulcerative colitis). It is still unclear whether the drug, developed in collaboration with the Belgian company Amakem and taken over by the British company Redx Pharma, effectively will be marketed.
There are still extensive clinical studies that have to be done first, but the researchers are optimistic. "We already see that the drug is only locally active in the intestines and we expect few side effects. However, it may take several years until this drug will become available on the market," concludes Holvoet.