A new pill achieved a near 100 per cent protection of changes in the intestines following celiac disease. More research is however needed before the pill may be available on the market.

New pill against celiac disease protects fully against the effects of gluten

The pill has now been tested on 160 patients and shows promising results.

“I consider this an extremely important step toward being able to make a medical drug which can help those with celiac disease”, professor Knut. E. A. Lundin says to the Norwegian Celiac Association.

He is one of the main researchers behind a new study about a “celiac disease pill” which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on July 1.

Celiac disease means that you get sick from proteins found in wheat, barley and rye. The only treatment available for this disease today is to avoid gluten for the rest of your life.

Inhibits an enzyme

Last year Lundin and his colleague Ludvig M. Sollid told sciencenorway.no that around 30 different pharmaceutical companies worked intensely to develop a pill or a vaccine against the disease.

However, now one of these studies, with Norwegian researchers and patients, is closer to the target than ever.

Ludvig M. Sollid and Knut E. A. Lundin have studied celiac disease since the 1980s. Lundin is involved in a recently published study on a "celiac disease pill" which shows very promising results.

This clinical study has tested a pill which inhibits the enzyme transglutaminase.

Previous research has shown that this enzyme is a key component in celiac disease. It changes the gluten when it enters the intestine.

A German group of researchers have created an inhibitor for this enzyme. And it is this inhibitor which has now been tested in the form of a pill in a European research project.

“This pill works”

The participants in the study ate a biscuit containing 3 grams of gluten every day for six weeks. 30 minutes before eating the gluten biscuit, they took a pill.

This pill came in four variants: one low dose pill (10 mg), a medium dose pill (50 mg), a high dose pill (100 mg), and one placebo (with no effect).

The participants did not know which pill they were taking.

“The most important finding is that those who received the high dose pill of 100 mg, experienced a near 100 per cent protection against duodenal mucosal damage. These results are statistically significant. This pill works”, Lundin says.

Among the patients who received the 50 mg pill, a slightly higher number experienced changes in their intestine.

Those who received the lowest dose had just about the same results as those who received the placebo pill. Most of these participants experienced changes in the intestine caused by celiac disease.

More research still needed

The patients experienced few side effects.

However, Lundin points out that those who become the most ill from celiac disease are seldome the ones who sign up to participate in such as study. Thus he doesn’t know what the results would be if the pill had been tested on the very hardest hit by celiac disease.

The researchers will now continue studying the pill by giving it to people with celiac disease, who try to maintain a gluten free diet – but who still experience symptoms.

And this is the reason for why it will take some time before the pill is available as a drug against celiac disease. Lundin does not wish to suggest a timeline for when this may happen.

Different ways to use the pill

Lundin imagines that the pill can be used in different ways.

It can be used as prevention or as treatment.

It could also be a pill to be used if the only alternative available is to eat food which contains gluten.

Or perhaps a patient can take a pill 2-3 times a day, and have a normal diet.

RELATED: More about celiac disease from our partners:

The University of Oslo writes about immune cells at the centre of coeliac disease which have been found in patients with other autoimmune diseases. These results give hope of finding the cause of a number of diseases.

The Norwegian University of Life Sciences writes about people who believe that they are gluten intolerant, but who may be reacting to something completely different in the wheat.

Translated by: Ida Irene Bergstrøm


Read the Norwegian version of this article on forskning.no

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