Induction and Maintenance Therapy with Vedolizumab, a Novel Biologic Therapy for Ulcerative Colitis

Gastroenterology and Hepatology

January 2014, Volume 10, Issue 1


Induction and Maintenance Therapy with Vedolizumab, a Novel Biologic Therapy for Ulcerative Colitis 

Feagan BG, Rutgeerts P, Sands BE, et al; GEMINI 1 Study Group. Vedolizumab as induction and maintenance therapy for ulcerative colitis. N Engl J Med. 2013;369(8):699-710. 

Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) characterized by inflammation of the mucosal layer of the colon. The resulting disease includes episodes of recurrent rectal bleeding, increased stool frequency and urgency, abdominal cramps and pain, and systemic symptoms (such as fever, anemia, and weight loss).1 Historical studies have estimated that approximately half of the IBD cases in the United States were attributed to UC; a recent study estimated that UC affected approximately 593,000 persons, with an incidence rate of 8 to 12 per 100,000 persons per year.2,3

The introduction of tumor necrosis factor (TNF) antagonist agents dramatically changed the treatment landscape for UC. As of late 2013, 3 anti-TNF agents have been approved in this setting—infliximab (Remicade, Janssen), adalimumab (Humira, AbbVie), and golimumab (Simponi, Janssen)—with slightly different indications specific for each. Each of these agents has demonstrated benefit for the induction and maintenance of remission in moderate or severe UC. In addition, these biologic agents are noted for their ability to change the natural course of the disease by inducing mucosal healing, reducing glucocorticoid dependence, and decreasing the need for colectomy.

Despite their clear impact on the course of therapy, anti-TNF therapy remains inadequate in a significant portion of patients with UC. Approximately 40% of patients with UC fail to respond to infliximab, and another 30% or 40% of patients with UC begin to lose response to infliximab over time.4-6 Thus, alternative therapies have been investigated for UC. One class of agents targets the integrins, cell surface adhesion molecules involved in lymphocyte migration.5,7 Because leukocyte invasion of the intestinal mucosa has been shown to have a role in the pathogenesis of IBD,8 integrin antagonists have been explored for their efficacy in UC. One of the first agents in this class to be evaluated was natalizumab (Tysabri, Biogen Idec) in Crohn’s disease. However, due to its association with progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), use of natalizumab has been severely limited in this population. The link between natalizumab and PML has been attributed to its inhibition of both the gut-specific α4β7 integrin and the central nervous system–specific α4β1 integrin.5

Vedolizumab is a novel integrin antagonist that, due to its mechanism of action, only targets the gut-specific α4β7 integrin for inhibition.9,10 Here, Feagan and colleagues report on a phase 3 study that investigated the efficacy and safety of vedolizumab in patients with previously treated moderate to severe active UC.11

Study Description 

The GEMINI 1 study was a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized, international, multicenter, phase 3 trial that included separate induction and maintenance portions. Patients between age 18 and 80 years were enrolled between 2008 and 2012. All patients had active UC, which was defined by a Mayo Clinic score of 6 to 12 and a minimum sigmoidoscopy subscore of 2. Patients also were required to have a disease extent of at least 15 cm from the anal verge.

To be eligible for the study, patients had to have failed previous treatment with 1 or more glucocorticoids, immunosuppressive agents (including azathioprine and 6-mercaptopurine), or anti-TNF agents (>60 days prior to enrollment). Prior treatment with vedolizumab, natalizumab, efalizumab, or rituximab (Rituxan, Genentech) was not permitted. Other exclusion criteria included toxic megacolon, abdominal abscess, symptomatic colonic stricture, stoma, history of colectomy, increased risk of infectious complications, clinically meaningful laboratory abnormalities, and pregnancy or lactation, among others. Immediately prior to randomization, a sigmoidoscopy was performed, which provided a baseline Mayo Clinic score.

For the induction portion of the GEMINI 1 study, patients were randomized 3:2 to receive either 300 mg intravenous vedolizumab (n=225) or placebo (n=149) on Days 1 and 15. Prior to randomization, patients were stratified according to use or nonuse of concurrent glucocorticoids and concomitant or prior use or nonuse of anti- TNF agents. (Prior anti-TNF agent exposure was limited to only half of the study population.) An additional 521 patients were enrolled into the maintenance portion of the trial as part of an open-label group to meet the requirements for sample size. These patients received the same active induction regimen that was given to patients in the blinded induction arm of the study. Patients were allowed to continue to receive aminosalicylates (continued through the induction and maintenance portions), prednisone (up to 30 mg daily through induction and then tapered after clinical response at Week 6), or immunosuppressive agents during the study (stopped after the induction portion in the United States or continued through the maintenance portion elsewhere).

For both the blinded and open-label cohorts, those patients who achieved a clinical response to vedolizumab by Week 6 were rerandomized in a 1:1:1 fashion to treatment for up to 52 weeks in 3 arms: vedolizumab every 4 weeks (n=125), vedolizumab every 8 weeks with placebo at every other visit to maintain blinding (n=122), or placebo (n=126). At rerandomization, patients were stratified by their induction cohort, the use or nonuse of concurrent glucocorticoids, and concomitant or prior use or nonuse of immunosuppressive agents or prior use or nonuse of anti-TNF agents.

For those patients who had not achieved a clinical response by Week 6, vedolizumab (300 mg) was continued every 4 weeks through Week 52. Patients in the original blinded induction cohort who had been randomized to the placebo arm continued to receive placebo through Week 52.

During the induction portion of the trial, patients were followed at Weeks 2, 4, and 6. All patients were then followed every 4 weeks thereafter until Week 52. Follow-up visits included the calculation of a partial Mayo Clinic score (without the sigmoidoscopy subscore). Serum laboratory analysis was conducted every 8 weeks, blood samples were analyzed for anti–vedolizumab antibodies every 12 weeks, and serum vedolizumab concentrations were assessed at Weeks 0, 2, 4, 6, and every 8 weeks thereafter. Additional sigmoidoscopies were conducted at Weeks 6 and 52.

The primary endpoint for the induction portion of the trial was a clinical response at Week 6. Clinical response was characterized by a reduction in the Mayo Clinic score of 3 or more points (including a decrease in the rectal bleeding subscale of at least 1 point or an absolute rectal bleeding score of 0 or 1), together with a decrease of 30% or more from the baseline score. The primary endpoint for the maintenance portion of the trial was clinical remission at Week 52.

Study Results 

Patient demographic characteristics at baseline were comparable between the vedolizumab and placebo groups (overall median age, 40.3 ± 13.1 years; 58.7% male; 82.0% white). Patients had a median duration of disease of 6.9 ± 6.4 years and had various sites of disease involvement, including the left colon (37.9%), the entire colon (37.0%), the rectum and sigmoid colon only (13.0%), and proximal to the splenic flexure (12.2%). The median Mayo Clinic score at baseline was 8.6 ± 1.8 (partial subscore, 6.0 ± 1.6). Nearly half (48.2%) of patients had prior exposure to an anti-TNF agent, with 41.0% having had failed at least 1 of these agents. Similarly, the baseline characteristics among the 3 maintenance treatment arms were similar.

During the blinded induction portion of the GEMINI 1 trial, nearly twice as many patients in the vedolizumab arm than the placebo arm achieved a clinical response to induction therapy at Week 6 (47.1% vs 25.5%; P<.001). At Week 6, vedolizumab treatment was superior to placebo in relation to the proportion of patients achieving clinical remission (16.9% vs 5.4%; P=.001) or mucosal healing (40.9% vs 24.8%; P=.001). Among patients in the open-label cohort who received vedolizumab induction therapy, 44.3% achieved a clinical response, 19.2% had clinical remission, and 36.7% had mucosal healing by Week 6. Compared with placebo, vedolizumab-treated patients achieved a greater improvement at Week 6 in their mean partial Mayo Clinic score (P<.001), mean change from baseline in their IBD questionnaire (IBDQ) score (P<.001), and median fecal calprotectin value (P<.001).

In the maintenance portion, the patients who were randomized to receive vedolizumab (both the every-4- week and every-8-week groups) were more likely to be in clinical remission at Week 52 than those randomized to receive placebo (44.8% and 41.8% vs 15.9%; P<.001 for both comparisons). Also for patients in the maintenance portion, those in either the every-4-week or every-8-week vedolizumab arms achieved superior rates of durable clinical response compared with patients receiving placebo (52.0% and 56.6% vs 23.8%; P<.001 for both comparisons), durable clinical remission (24.0% and 20.5% vs 8.7%; P=.001 for the first comparison and P=.008 for the second comparison), mucosal healing (56.0% and 51.6% vs 19.8%; P<.001 for both comparisons), and glucocorticoid-free remission (45.2% and 31.4% vs 13.9%; P<.001 for the first comparison and P=.01 for the second comparison). The efficacy of vedolizumab was not significantly affected by concurrent treatment with either glucocorticoids or immunosuppressants or prior exposure to anti-TNF agents. Vedolizumab-treated patients achieved a greater improvement at Week 52 in their mean partial Mayo Clinic score (P<.001 for both vedolizumab groups compared with placebo), mean change from baseline in their IBDQ score (P<.001 for both vedolizumab groups compared with placebo), median fecal calprotectin value (P=.05 and P=.02 for the every-4-week and every-8-week vedolizumab groups compared with placebo, respectively), and glucocorticoid dependence (P<.001 and P=.009 for the every-4-week and every- 8-week vedolizumab groups compared with placebo, respectively). During both the induction and maintenance phases, the efficacy of vedolizumab was shared across all patient subgroups according to baseline demographic characteristics.

At Week 6, the mean trough vedolizumab concentration was 27.9 ± 15.5 mg/mL. During the maintenance portion, steady state mean vedolizumab concentrations were 38.3 ± 24.4 mg/mL in the every-4-week group and 11.2 ± 7.2 mg/mL in the every-8-week group. Throughout the study, 3.7% of vedolizumab-treated blood samples were positive for anti–vedolizumab antibodies at any one time; 1.0% was persistently positive over 2 or more consecutive samples. Blood samples from patients with concomitant immunosuppressive therapy showed lower rates of immunogenicity.

No clinically important differences were observed between vedolizumab and placebo among the frequently reported adverse events (including headache, UC, nasopharyngitis, upper respiratory tract infection, arthralgia, nausea, abdominal pain, anemia, fatigue, cough, blood chemistry profiles, and liver function tests). Serious infections occurred at the same rate in vedolizumab- and placebo-treated patients (1.9% vs 2.9%), and, importantly, no cases of PML were reported. The rate of serious adverse events was also similar (12.4% vs 13.5%). Additionally, there was not an increase in the peripheral blood total lymphocyte counts among vedolizumab-treated patients, which was a unique observation compared with that seen with other anti-integrin therapies. Three cases of infusion reactions led to discontinuation of vedolizumab.

Study Conclusions 

Overall, the GEMINI 1 trial established that the novel α4β7 integrin antagonist vedolizumab was effective in the induction and maintenance of remission of patients with previously treated moderate to severe active UC. No cases of PML were reported, and the safety profile of vedolizumab was not significantly different from that of placebo. Future studies may investigate the optimal timing for induction therapy, as well as the optimal dose during maintenance treatment.


1. Ochsenkühn T, D’Haens G. Current misunderstandings in the management of ulcerative colitis. Gut. 2011;60(9):1294-1299.

2. Kappelman MD, Moore KR, Allen JK, Cook SF. Recent trends in the prevalence of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis in a commercially insured US population. Dig Dis Sci. 2013;58(2):519-525.

3. Kornbluth A, Sachar DB; Practice Parameters Committee of the American College of Gastroenterology. Ulcerative colitis practice guidelines in adults: American College of Gastroenterology, Practice Parameters Committee. Am J Gastroenterol. 2010;105(3):501-523; quiz 524.

4. Ford AC, Sandborn WJ, Khan KJ, Hanauer SB, Talley NJ, Moayyedi P. Efficacy of biological therapies in inflammatory bowel disease: systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Gastroenterol. 2011;106(4):644-659.

5. McLean LP, Shea-Donohue T, Cross RK. Vedolizumab for the treatment of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Immunotherapy. 2012;4(9):883-898.

6. Ben-Horin S, Chowers Y. Review article: loss of response to anti-TNF treatments in Crohn’s disease. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2011;33(9):987-995.

7. Ghosh S, Panaccione R. Anti-adhesion molecule therapy for inflammatory bowel disease. Therap Adv Gastroenterol. 2010;3(4):239-258.

8. Barreiro O, Sanchez-Madrid F. Molecular basis of leukocyte–endothelium interactions during the inflammatory response. Rev Esp Cardiol. 2009;62(5):552-562.

9. Soler D, Chapman T, Yang LL, Wyant T, Egan R, Fedyk ER. The binding specificity and selective antagonism of vedolizumab, an anti-alpha4beta7 integrin therapeutic antibody in development for inflammatory bowel diseases. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2009;330(3):864-875.

10. Yu Y, Zhu J, Mi LZ, et al. Structural specializations of alpha(4)beta(7), an integrin that mediates rolling adhesion. J Cell Biol. 2012;196(1):131-146.

11. Feagan BG, Rutgeerts P, Sands BE, et al; GEMINI 1 Study Group. Vedolizumab as induction and maintenance therapy for ulcerative colitis. N Engl J Med. 2013;369(8):699-710.Gastroenterology & Hepatology Volume 10, Issue 1 January 2014 67

Millennium Medical Publishing, Inc