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Summary

Background

Anti-tumour necrosis factor-α antibodies are useful for the treatment of refractory Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Thalidomide is another agent with tumour necrosis factor-α suppressive properties.

Aim

To investigate the long-term efficacy and safety of thalidomide in a group of children and young adults with refractory inflammatory bowel disease.

Methods

Twenty-eight patients with refractory moderate-severe inflammatory bowel disease (19 Crohn's disease, 9 ulcerative colitis) received thalidomide 1.5–2.5 mg/kg/day. Patients were assessed at baseline, at weeks 2, 4, 8 and 12, and then every 12 weeks by patient's diary, physical examinations, laboratory analyses and scoring on activity indexes. Primary outcomes were: (i) efficacy in inducing remission; and (ii) efficacy in maintaining remission.

Results

Remission was achieved with thalidomide in 21 of 28 (75%) patients (17 with Crohn's disease, 4 with ulcerative colitis). Mean duration of remission was 34.5 months. Sixteen of 20 (80%) patients suspended steroids. Reversible neuropathy occurred in seven of 28 (25%) patients, but only with cumulative doses over 28 g. Other side effects requiring thalidomide suspension were vertigo/somnolence (one of 28), and agitation/hallucinations (one of 28).

Conclusions

Thalidomide seems to be effective in inducing long-term remission in children and adolescents with intractable inflammatory bowel disease. Neuropathy is the main adverse effect, but appears to be cumulative dose-dependent, thus allowing long-term remission before drug suspension.