Celiac Pill Holds Promise of Relief

in Celiac
Published: November 21, 2011

If you have celiac disease, you might soon be able to take a pill with your gluten-free meals to help prevent uncomfortable symptoms like bloating – and stave off damage to your small intestine. Developed in San Carlos, California by Alvine Pharmaceuticals, the medication, called ALV003, is being heralded as a significant step forward.

Dr. Peter Green, head of the Celiac Disease Center at New York’s Columbia University, says the drug could prove beneficial to the majority of those with celiac disease who follow a gluten-free diet but nonetheless suffer discomfort and intestinal damage. This is the result of accidental gluten ingestion.

At the Digestive Diseases Week meeting held in San Diego in May, Alvine Pharmaceuticals announced with optimism that the drug had met expectations in a second clinical trial.

The six-week study involved two groups of adults, both of whom had been on the gluten-free diet for at least one year. Both groups were instructed to eat two grams of breadcrumbs each day; one group receiving the ALV003 pill while the other got a placebo.

In this second phase, the main goal was to eliminate intestinal damage when exposed to gluten. While some patients on the pill still experienced uncomfortable symptoms such as abdominal distention, diarrhea and headache, biopsies showed far less damage in the gut than among those on the placebo.

Dr. Daniel Adelman, Alvine’s chief medical officer, told Allergic Living that the idea behind the drug is not to give “free license” for celiac patients to ingest gluten. Rather, he explains that with about 80 percent of celiac patients experiencing ongoing mucosal inflammation, the pill would provide a means to make the gluten-free diet more effective. It’s his view that, given the ubiquity of gluten, it’s “impossible” to ever fully eliminate it from the diet.

Alvine Pharmaceuticals plans to move into the next phase of trials of the ALV003 pill later this year.

With celiac disease the body virulently rejects gluten, a protein in wheat, barley and rye. It’s estimated that one in every 100 people has the disease, which can present in a number of ways, such as abdominal problems, skin rashes and iron deficiency.