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Original research
Efficacy of biological therapies and small molecules in moderate to severe ulcerative colitis: systematic review and network meta-analysis


Objective Biological therapies and small molecules continue to be evaluated in moderate to severely active ulcerative colitis, but are often studied in placebo-controlled trials, meaning their relative efficacy and safety is unknown. We examined this in a network meta-analysis.

Design We searched the literature to October 2021 to identify eligible trials. We judged efficacy using clinical remission, endoscopic improvement, or clinical response, and according to previous exposure or non-exposure to antitumour necrosis factor (TNF)-α therapy. We also assessed safety. We used a random effects model and reported data as pooled relative risks (RRs) with 95% CIs. Interventions were ranked according to their P-score.

Results We identified 28 trials (12 504 patients). Based on failure to achieve clinical remission, upadacitinib 45 mg once daily ranked first versus placebo (RR 0.73; 95% CI 0.68 to 0.80, P-score 0.98), with infliximab 5 mg/kg and 10 mg/kg second and third, respectively. Upadacitinib ranked first for clinical remission in both patients naïve to anti-TNF-α drugs (RR 0.69; 95% CI 0.61 to 0.78, P-score 0.99) and previously exposed (RR 0.78; 95% CI 0.72 to 0.85, P-score 0.99). Upadacitinib was superior to almost all other drugs in these analyses. Based on failure to achieve endoscopic improvement infliximab 10 mg/kg ranked first (RR 0.61; 95% CI 0.51 to 0.72, P-score 0.97), with upadacitinib 45 mg once daily, second, and infliximab 5 mg/kg third. Upadacitinib was more likely to lead to adverse events, but serious adverse events were no more frequent, and withdrawals due to adverse events were significantly lower than with placebo. Infections were significantly more likely with tofacitinib than placebo (RR 1.41; 95% CI 1.03 to 1.91).

Conclusion In a network meta-analysis, upadacitinib 45 mg once daily ranked first for clinical remission in all patients, patients naïve to anti-TNF-α drugs and patients previously exposed. Infliximab 10 mg/kg ranked first for endoscopic improvement. Most drugs were safe and well tolerated.

  • ulcerative colitis
  • meta-analysis

Data availability statement

No data are available.

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