A New Age of Treatment: IBD Innovate Conference Showcases the Road Forward for IBD Product Development



The scientific community has made significant progress in the treatment of IBD over the past decade, particularly with the emergence of biologic medications for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. However, despite these advancements, IBD patients still face substantial unmet needs. An estimated 40-50% of IBD patients do not respond to biologics, and 30% lose response over time.


To help bridge this gap, the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation makes it a priority to help accelerate the discovery and development of IBD treatments.


On April 26, the annual IBD Innovate: Product Development for Crohn’s & Colitis™ conference brought together 150 scientists, venture philanthropists, academics, and entrepreneurs from 11 countries to network and learn about new therapeutics, devices, and diagnostics. Throughout the day, one message resounded loudly: There is hope for people suffering with IBD.


“This is a unique conference,” said Andres Hurtado Lorenzo, PhD, Vice President of Translational research and IBD Ventures at the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation. “IBD Innovate highlights all emerging product modalities for IBD and brings together entrepreneurs, industry and academic researchers, investors, and patients in the IBD community to learn, network and find the support they need to bring these products to patients quickly and efficiently.”


A Glimpse into the Future

Wearable biosensor
Credit: Michelle Falci

The conference highlighted several novel products that were developed through IBD Ventures, the Foundation’s funding mechanism to support product-oriented research and development. Attendees were introduced to a range of exciting new offerings including:

  • A biosensor device that detects biomarkers of inflammation in sweat. Developed by EnLiSense, this cutting-edge biosensor device provides real-time and minimally invasive measurement of inflammation biomarkers through a wearable sensor. IBD Ventures funding will be used to conduct clinical studies at two independent clinical sites to further refine and validate the device's effectiveness in IBD patients.
  • A peptide pill that promotes healing of the intestinal wall. Created by NIBEC, this oral peptide (a small protein fragment) aids in the repair of intestinal wall damage, leading to the healing of gut ulcers, also referred to as mucosal healing,
  • A novel ingestible medical device that delivers therapeutics directly to the colon. Biora's Navicap platform uses an ingestible device the size of a fish oil capsule, specifically designed for targeted drug delivery. Research has shown that this approach holds significant potential for improving patient outcomes.
  • Adhesive filler for perianal fistulas. Perianal fistulas are among the most debilitating complications of IBD, often resulting in significant discomfort and diminished quality of life. While the surgical removal of fistulas is currently considered the gold standard of care, this approach can lead to long-term side effects, such as fecal incontinence. To address this challenge, Tissium has developed a novel polymer designed for use as an internal adhesive, plug, and drug delivery vehicle to facilitate fistula healing. By leveraging this innovative solution, patients may have access to a less invasive treatment option that minimizes the risk of complications and improves their overall wellbeing.


Innovative Solutions for IBD Patients

The conference included a lineup of influential speakers who delved into critical topics such as the promising role of targeting epithelial barrier function – the ability of the epithelial cells in the gut to act as a barrier towards harmful substances – as a new target for drug development, and microbiome-based therapies. The first session, led by Jerrold Turner, MD, PhD, Professor at Harvard Medical School, focused on mucosal wound healing—a state where disease activity is not seen during a colonoscopy or other procedure looking at the lining of the digestive tract. The various medications used to treat IBD are associated with different rates of mucosal wound healing, and the experience for each patient can vary greatly. Matthew Kowalik, MD, Clinical Division Leader in the Division of Gastroenterology at the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), shared valuable insights on the FDA’s perspective on clinical trial design for developing drugs for the treatment of IBD.


Ben Kostiuk, PhD, Associate Director of Life Science Partnerships at the Foundation, provided an overview of the Foundation’s IBD Plexus® program. The program is a collaboration with leading academic centers and industry partners. Its goal is to accelerate scientific research and discovery in IBD by creating a comprehensive and integrated platform to collect and analyze data from patients, including clinical, genetic, and biomarker data. The program allows researchers to access a large and diverse set of data to uncover new insights and identify potential targets for drug development. The program also aims to provide a platform for researchers to collaborate and share data and resources to accelerate progress towards personalized treatments for IBD.


Prioritizing the Patient Voice: “IBD is Not Just a Bathroom Disease”

At IBD Innovate, the patient perspective is highly valued, with an annual patient speaker sharing their journey and insights with researchers and philanthropists. This year, Rocio Castrillon, a Crohn's disease patient, bravely recounted her two-decade journey as an IBD patient. Castrillon shared the physical and mental challenges of living with a chronic disease for more than half of her life, including extensive surgeries, hospitalizations, medication side effects, and a recent cancer scare. She also spoke about the isolation and shame she initially felt upon diagnosis, emphasizing that "IBD is not just a bathroom disease. It impacts all aspects of patients' lives, from their careers to their relationships and friendships.”


Rocio Castrillon as the Foundation’s Take Steps team captain in Orange County, CA.

Castrillon provided examples of how product developers and researchers can prioritize IBD patients when developing new products. She urged the audience to consider the burden of regular colonoscopies for IBD patients, who routinely undergo imaging and consume unpleasant colonoscopy prep and contrast. She suggested finding easier and more accessible ways to administer colonoscopies as one area of focus.


Castrillon also emphasized the importance of patient accessibility, noting that while wearable devices to track flares are exciting, not all patients have the same access to healthcare and resources. She urged researchers to consider the impact of their advancements on patients in the present, saying, "No matter how incredible your research is, what is most important is how it will affect us now, not in 100 years."


Castrillon said that she left the conference feeling encouraged about the future for IBD treatment.


“As an IBD patient of nearly 20 years, it has been so encouraging to see the advancements in therapeutic treatment options.  When I was initially diagnosed, the biologic I was prescribed had just been approved by the FDA. Today, we are seeing more and more targeted treatments become available for patients. IBD Ventures gives me so much hope about the future of IBD because the program is so committed to funding product-oriented research that I will be able to benefit from firsthand.”