Patients with decompensated cirrhosis are currently managed through targeted strategies aimed at preventing or treating specific complications. In contrast, a disease-modifying agent should, by definition, be aimed at globally addressing 'decompensated cirrhosis'. To be defined as a disease-modifying agent in decompensated cirrhosis, interventions need to demonstrate an unequivocal benefit on the course of disease in well-designed and adequately powered randomised clinical trials with hard endpoints (i.e. patient survival). These trials also need to define the target population, dosage and timing of administration, factors guiding treatment, temporary or permanent stopping rules, transferability to daily clinical practice, cost-effectiveness, and global treatment access. By eliminating the underlying cause of cirrhosis, aetiologic treatments can still influence the course of decompensated disease by halting or slowing down disease progression or even inducing reversion to the compensated state. In contrast, there remains an unmet clinical need for disease-modifying agents which can antagonise key pathophysiological mechanisms of decompensated cirrhosis, such as portal hypertension, gut translocation, circulatory dysfunction, systemic inflammation, and immunological dysfunction. However, in the last few years, the repurposing of "old drugs" that have already been prescribed for more limited indications in hepatology or for other diseases has provided a few candidates, including human albumin, statins, and poorly absorbable oral antibiotics, which are under further evaluation in large-scale randomised clinical trials. New disease-modifying agents are also expected to be identified in the next decade through the systematic repurposing of existing drugs and the development of novel molecules which are currently undergoing pre-clinical or early clinical testing.
Paolo Caraceni, Juan G Abraldes, Pere Ginès, Phil N Newsome, Shiv K Sarin