A first-in-class treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) has been launched in the UK this week, offering patients a new option that, for the first time, addresses a variety of symptoms caused by the condition.

Almirall’s Constella (linaclotide) is now available for the symptomatic treatment of moderate-to-severe irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C) in adults, following a green light from European regulators in November last year.

Constella - the only drug approved in Europe for IBS-C - comes as a once-daily capsule that was shown in clinical trials to treat symptoms of IBS such as abdominal pain or discomfort, bloating and constipation.

According to Almirall, current options are limited to treatments for individual symptoms such as antispasmodics or unlicensed antidepressants for pain and laxatives for constipation, underscoring the need for new effective therapies.

And on the economic side, IBS is thought to affect around one in ten of the adult population, with 240,000 new cases diagnosed every year in the UK, at a cost to the NHS of around £200 million a year. 

Saving resources?

A 28-capsule pack costs £37.56, but given the number of new cases every year, the drug has the potential to reduce NHS resource use by cutting down repeat visits to a GP and unnecessary referrals, the firm claims.

On the safety side, the drug seems to be well tolerated, and rarely detected in plasma. Patient reported diarrhoea was the main side effect reported more commonly than in the placebo group, occurring in around 20% of patients. 

According to market analyst Decision Resources, linaclotide, an investigational guanylate cyclase-C receptor, will be leading the market by 2020. "Owing to its superb efficacy, safety profile and anticipated launch in all major markets, linaclotide will achieve blockbuster sales by 2018," the group recently said.