- 1Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, University Offices, Wellington Square, Oxford OX1 2JD, UK.
- 2Translational Gastroenterology Unit, Oxford University Hospital, Oxford, UK.
- 3Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Adelaide, Port Road, Adelaide SA 5005, Australia.
- 4Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Royal Adelaide Hospital, Port Rd, Adelaide SA 5000, Australia.
Introduction: Obeticholic acid (OCA) is a semi-synthetic hydrophobic bile acid (BA) analogue that is highly selective agonist of farnesoid X receptor (FXR), a key nuclear BA receptor, which induces expression of gut-derived hormones, in particular fibroblast growth factor 19. The resulting beneficial effects of OCA on glucose and lipid metabolism and particularly hepatic inflammation make it a candidate for the treatment of a variety of conditions including primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).
Sources of data: In PBC patients who have not initially responded to ursodeoxycholic acid, OCA has been shown in double-blind controlled clinical trials to significantly reduce serum alkaline phosphatase. To date, OCA is the only therapy licensed by the FDA, EMA and endorsed by NICE as second line therapy for PBC.No medications are currently approved in Europe or the USA for the treatment of NASH.In recent clinical trials, OCA has been shown encouraging results by improving liver blood tests and reducing liver fibrosis with no worsening of NASH.
Areas of agreement: OCA is the established second line therapy for PBC in those patients who fail to adequately respond to ursodeoxycholic acid.
Areas of controversy: The main side effects of OCA treatment in both PBC and NASH is that of dose-dependent pruritis which can lead to treatment discontinuation in ~1-10% of patients. In addition, OCA-treated patients may also exhibit (reversible) alterations in serum lipid levels; most notably a small decrease in high density lipoprotein cholesterol. It is not yet known whether these changes carry a long-term cardiovascular risk in NASH.In addition, the relatively high cost of OCA may limit its use in cash-limited health systems.
Growing points: Additional clinical trials are in progress to ascertain the long-term effects of OCA on survival in PBC and NASH.
Areas timely for developing research: New FXR agonists with a lower rate of side effects are being developed and trialed. Combination therapy with other agents may offer increased efficacy.