Future Drugs Could Allow Coeliac Sufferers To Eat Gluten
There is currently no treatment for coeliac disease, and the only way to avoid symptoms, from bloating and stomach upsets to malnutrition and intestinal damage, is to avoid eating gluten at all. It may be pleasing news to coeliac sufferers that there are drugs being trialled which could one day allow them to eat a less limited diet.
Though they’re not likely to be publicly available for some years, a review of the drug pipeline published in Gastroenterology Report has identified several therapies which have undergone early trials on humans, and could allow for coeliacs to one day eat gluten safely.
Since none of these treatments have yet entered safety trials – the final step before they can be made publicly and commercially available – it’s still not guaranteed that they will be developed into a generally usable product. However, the review lead author Dr Klaus Gottlieb says that if things continue in a positive manner then they could be available in three to five years.
“Based on data on ClinicalTrials.gov, there are two investigational products we are aware of which may enter large confirmatory trials in the not-too-distant future,” Gottlieb said. “One of them is an enzyme that splits the molecule in wheat that causes coeliac disease – gluten – into smaller harmless products, and another one promises to make the gut less leaky, and thus prevent potentially toxic substances reaching deeper layers where they may cause inflammation.”
In a trial of the first of these drugs, coeliac patients were given either the drug or a placebo, and after eating gluten those who were given the drug saw none of the intestinal damage which affected those who only had the placebo. However, both groups exhibited similar symptoms of a negative reaction to the substance.
In a separate trial, one of the other drugs did succeed in reducing adverse reactions such as diarrhoea, indigestion and abdominal pain.
Though promising, these are only preliminary tests, and it’s still not certain whether or when these drugs will emerge as a viable product. Similarly, if they are developed and approved, it’s unclear whether they will allow coeliac sufferers to eat gluten without restriction as those without the disease can, or whether there will still be some limitations.
“If they eat a lot of gluten, they may still have some symptoms and perhaps other long-term health consequences,” Gottlieb said.
However, these findings do still offer some hope of a possible alleviation of symptoms, and of the potential inconvenience of a totally gluten-free diet, as well as the chance to indulge, if only occasionally, in some of those tasty treats that coeliac sufferers are otherwise forced to avoid.