Obeticholic acid for the treatment of primary biliary cholangitis

Ahmad H. Ali, Keith Lindor

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Introduction: Primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) is an autoimmune disease of the liver characterized by destruction and inflammation of the intrahepatic bile ducts. The disease affects mainly women. The disease is often discovered through abnormal alkaline phosphatase (ALP) activity, and is confirmed when anti-mitochondrial antibodies (AMA) are present. The etiology of PBC is poorly understood. Cigarette smoking, immune dysregulation, nail polish, urinary tract infections, and low socioeconomic status have been implicated but none have been confirmed. Genome wide association studies (GWAS) have disclosed strong associations between certain human leukocyte antigen (HLA) alleles and PBC. PBC can progress to cirrhosis and end-stage liver disease. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) develops in up to 3.5% of PBC patients. Ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) is the only medication approved for the treatment of PBC. The use of UDCA in PBC delays histological progression and extends the transplant-free survival. 40% of PBC patients do not respond adequately to UDCA, and these patients are at high risk for serious complications. Therefore, there is a critical need for more effective therapies for this problematic disease. Multiple other agents have either been or are currently being studied as therapeutic options in UDCA non-responder PBC patients. Six-ethyl chenodeoxycholic acid (6-ECDCA), a potent farnesoid X receptor (FXR) agonist, has shown anti-cholestatic activity in rodent models of cholestasis. Obeticholic acid (OCA, 6-ECDCA, or INT-747), a first-in-class FXR agonist, has been examined in PBC patients with inadequate response to UDCA, and shown promising results. Particularly, initial clinical trials have demonstrated that the use of OCA (in addition to UDCA) in PBC patients with inadequate response to UDCA led to significant reduction of serum alkaline phosphatase (ALP, an important prognostic marker in PBC). More recently, the results of a randomized clinical trial of OCA monotherapy in PBC reported significant reduction of ALP in the treatment group compared to placebo. Areas covered: This review covers the preclinical and clinical studies of OCA in PBC. In addition, other alternative therapies that are currently being examined in PBC patients will also be discussed in this review. A literature search was carried out using the PubMed database. Expert opinion: If approved by the U.S. FDA, OCA will likely be an important alternative add-on therapy in PBC patients who have inadequate response to UDCA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1809-1815
Number of pages7
JournalExpert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy
Issue number13
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016


  • Primary biliary cholangitis
  • anti-mitochondrial antibodies
  • chenodeoxycholic acid
  • farnesoid X receptor
  • liver transplantation
  • obeticholic acid
  • pruritus
  • ursodeoxycholic acid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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