Not only the prevalence, but the impact of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is increasing in much of the world, Arun J. Sanyal, MD, said in a virtual presentation at the meeting jointly provided by Rutgers and Global Academy for Medical Education. “It is currently estimated that the number of people living with cirrhosis or with decompensated cirrhosis will increase two- to threefold from 2015 to 2030,” which underlines the public health impact and the need for improved treatment paradigms, he emphasized.

“The thing to remember about NAFLD is that it does not exist in a vacuum,” Dr. Sanyal said. NAFLD is a multisystem disorder. Most patients have concomitant cardiovascular disease, but others may have type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and dyslipidemia, all of which are now accepted as risk factors for nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), he said.

“What ties these conditions together is metabolic stress leading to systemic inflammation and fibrosis. This is primarily due to diet-induced obesity. If you think about treating all of these competing risks to the patient’s life, the optimal way is to treat the root cause,” he said.

Various options exist to manage the conditions that can lead to NASH, but several of these also appear promising as a treatment of NASH, Dr. Sanyal said. Glucagonlike peptide–1 agonists and sodium-glucose transporter 2 inhibitors have been shown to improve multiple outcomes of interest in type 2 diabetes. However, insulin can cause weight gain at the expense of controlling HbA1C levels, he said.

Bariatric surgery can improve histology, but many patients with advanced fibrosis do not demonstrate improvement in fibrosis. Also, bariatric surgery has its own associated morbidity, including an increased suicide rate across multiple studies, Dr. Sanyal noted.

A new and interesting option is duodenal mucosal resurfacing (DMR) “a novel, minimally invasive outpatient upper-endoscopic procedure,” said Dr. Sanyal. DMR involves use of a catheter to perform a submucosal lift and hydrothermal mucosal ablation, prompting healthy epithelial regrowth, he explained. “The mucosa sloughs off, fresh epithelium grows in, and the hormonal signal from the gut to the rest of the body is restored to a more normal pattern,” he noted.

In the REVITA-2 study of patients with diabetes and NAFLD, the average fat loss was 5.4% in those randomized to DMR vs. 2.4% in sham-procedure patients and represented “quite significant defatting of the liver,” Dr. Sanyal said.

Dr. Sanyal then focused on fatty liver disease. “The first step when you see a patient with fatty liver disease is to see how scarred is the liver, and whether the patient has silent cirrhosis. The more scarred the liver, the greater risk of liver-related outcomes,” he said. The goal of therapy for these patients is to reduce the risk of progression to cirrhosis, he added. Dr. Sanyal recommended evaluating fibrosis using the Fibrosis 4 score (Fib4). “If the Fib4 is less than 1.3, the likelihood of significant scarring in the liver is less than 10%,” he said. On the other hand, a Fib4 greater than 2.67 suggests advanced fibrosis, he noted.

Overall, the goals of treatment for NASH patients are to prevent cirrhosis, reduce decompensation, and prevent hepatocellular carcinoma, said Dr. Sanyal.

“The ideal drug for NASH should also help other end organs, or at least be neutral,” said Dr. Sanyal.

Current frontline therapies for precirrhotic NASH include thiazolidinediones (TZD), farnesoid X receptor (FXR)/fibroblast growth factor 19 (FGF-19), FGF21, thyroxine B-R, and glucagonlike peptide-1. Clinical evidence varies based on different populations, endpoints, assessment methods, and treatment duration, he said.

Looking ahead to the next decade, a NASH management paradigm will likely play out that can be applied in the clinic today, Dr. Sanyal said. First, make an initial assessment of the status of the end organs. Start with a weight-loss regimen; use statins and GLP-1 and SGLT2 inhibitors as needed. Follow and reassess, and if the patient still has disease, progress to targeted therapy for active NASH while continuing to encourage weight loss and healthy living, he said.

“The ultimate proof that what we are doing is working is that we are improving mortality, reducing health care costs, and improving patients’ function and quality of life,” he concluded.

Dr. Sanyal is president of Sanyal Biotechnologies. He also disclosed stock options for Durect, Exhalenz, Galmed, Genfit, Immuton, Indalo, and Tiziana, as well as various relationships with Allergan, AMRA, Astra Zeneca-Medimmune, Birdrock, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol Myers, Echosense, GE, Genentech, Gilead, Hemoshear, IFMO, Innovate, Intercept, Lilly, Lipocine, Merck, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, OWL, Pfizer, RedX, Sundise, Tern, and Zydus.

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