Randomized trials investigating the efficacy of aminosalicylates for the treatment of mildly to moderately active Crohn's disease have yielded conflicting results. A systematic review was conducted to critically examine current available data on the efficacy of sulfasalazine and mesalamine for inducing remission or clinical response in these patients.
To evaluate the efficacy of aminosalicylates compared to placebo, corticosteroids, and other aminosalicylates (alone or in combination with corticosteroids) for the treatment of mildly to moderately active Crohn's disease.
We searched PubMed, EMBASE, MEDLINE and the Cochrane Central Library from inception to June 2015 to identify relevant studies. There were no language restrictions. We also searched reference lists from potentially relevant papers and review articles, as well as proceedings from annual meetings (1991-2015) of the American Gastroenterological Association and American College of Gastroenterology.
Randomized controlled trials that evaluated the efficacy of sulfasalazine or mesalamine in the treatment of mildly to moderately active Crohn's disease compared to placebo, corticosteroids, and other aminosalicylates (alone or in combination with corticosteroids) were included.
Data extraction and assessment of methodological quality was independently performed by the investigators and any disagreement was resolved by discussion and consensus. We assessed methodological quality using the Cochrane risk of bias tool. The overall quality of the evidence supporting the outcomes was evaluated using the GRADE criteria. The primary outcome measure was a well defined clinical endpoint of induction of remission or response to treatment. Secondary outcomes included mean Crohn's disease activity index (CDAI) scores, adverse events, serious adverse events and withdrawal due to adverse events. For dichotomous outcomes we calculated the pooled risk ratio (RR) and corresponding 95% confidence interval (CI) using a random-effects model. For continuous outcomes we calculated the mean difference (MD) and 95% CI using a random-effects model. Sensitivity analyses based on a fixed-effect model and duration of therapy were conducted where appropriate.
Twenty studies (2367 patients) were included. Two studies were judged to be at high risk of bias due to lack of blinding. Eight studies were judged to be at high risk of bias due to incomplete outcomes data (high drop-out rates) and potential selective reporting. The other 10 studies were judged to be at low risk of bias. A non-significant trend in favour of sulfasalazine over placebo for inducing remission was observed, with benefit confined mainly to patients with Crohn's colitis. Forty-five per cent (63/141) of sulfasalazine patients entered remission at 17-18 weeks compared to 29% (43/148) of placebo patients (RR 1.38, 95% CI 1.00 to 1.89, 2 studies). A GRADE analysis rated the overall quality of the evidence supporting this outcome as moderate due to sparse data (106 events). There was no difference between sulfasalazine and placebo in adverse event outcomes. Sulfasalazine was significantly less effective than corticosteroids and inferior to combination therapy with corticosteroids (RR 0.64, 95% CI 0.47 to 0.86, 1 study, 110 patients). Forty-three per cent (55/128) of sulfasalazine patients entered remission at 17 to 18 weeks compared to 60% (79/132) of corticosteroid patients (RR 0.68, 95% CI 0.51 to 0.91; 2 studies, 260 patients). A GRADE analysis rated the overall quality of the evidence supporting this outcome as moderate due to sparse data (134 events). Sulfasalazine patients experienced significantly fewer adverse events than corticosteroid patients (RR 0.43, 95% CI 0.22 to 0.82; 1 study, 159 patients). There was no difference between sulfasalazine and corticosteroids in serious adverse events or withdrawal due to adverse events. Olsalazine was less effective than placebo in a single trial (RR 0.36, 95% CI 0.18 to 0.71; 91 patients). Low dose mesalamine (1 to 2 g/day) was not superior to placebo for induction of remission. Twenty-three per cent (43/185) of low dose mesalamine patients entered remission at week 6 compared to 15% (18/117) of placebo patients (RR = 1.46, 95% CI 0.89 to 2.40; n = 302). A GRADE analysis indicated that the overall quality of the evidence supporting this outcome was low due to risk of bias (incomplete outcome data) and sparse data (61 events). There was no difference between low dose mesalamine and placebo in the proportion of patients who had adverse events (RR 1.33, 95% CI 0.91 to 1.96; 3 studies, 342 patients) or withdrew due to adverse events (RR 1.21, 95% CI 0.75 to 1.95; 3 studies, 342 patients). High dose controlled-release mesalamine (4 g/day) was not superior to placebo, inducing a clinically non significant reduction in CDAI (MD -19.8 points, 95% CI -46.2 to 6.7; 3 studies, 615 patients), and was also inferior to budesonide (RR 0.56, 95% CI 0.40 to 0.78; 1 study, 182 patients, GRADE = low). While high dose delayed-release mesalamine (3 to 4.5 g/day) was not superior to placebo for induction of remission (RR 2.02, 95% CI 0.75 to 5.45; 1 study, 38 patients, GRADE = very low), no significant difference in efficacy was found when compared to conventional corticosteroids (RR 1.04, 95% CI 0.79 to 1.36; 3 studies, 178 patients, GRADE = moderate) or budesonide (RR 0.89, 95% CI 0.76 to 1.05; 1 study, 307 patients, GRADE = moderate). However, these trials were limited by risk of bias (incomplete outcome data) and sparse data (small numbers of events). There was a lack of good quality clinical trials comparing sulfasalazine with other mesalamine formulations. Adverse events that were commonly reported included headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea.
Sulfasalazine is only modestly effective with a trend towards benefit over placebo and is inferior to corticosteroids for the treatment of mildly to moderately active Crohn's disease. Olsalazine and low dose mesalamine (1 to 2 g/day) are not superior to placebo. High dose mesalamine (3.2 to 4 g/day) is not more effective than placebo for inducing response or remission. However, trials assessing the efficacy of high dose mesalamine (4 to 4.5 g/day) compared to budesonide yielded conflicting results and firm conclusions cannot be made. Future large randomized controlled trials are needed to provide definitive evidence on the efficacy of aminosalicylates in active Crohn's disease.