The prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is increasing world-wide in parallel to the increase of the obesity epidemic. Insulin resistance (IR) and the accumulation of triglyceride-derived toxic lipid metabolites play a key role in its pathogenesis. Multiple biomarkers are being evaluated for the non-invasive diagnosis of NASH. However, a percutaneous liver biopsy is still the gold standard method; the minimal diagnostic criteria include the presence of >5% macrovesicular steatosis, inflammation, and liver cell ballooning. Several pharmaceutical agents have been evaluated for the treatment of NASH; however, no single therapy has been approved so far. Due to the increasing prevalence and the health burden, there is a high need to develop therapeutic strategies for patients with NASH targeting both those with early-stage disease as well as those with advanced liver fibrosis.
There are unique challenges in the design of studies for these target populations. Collaborative efforts of health authorities, medical disease experts, and the pharmaceutical industry are ongoing to align options for a registrational pathway. Several companies pursuing different mechanisms of action are nearing the end of phase II with their candidates. This manuscript reviews those compounds with a variety of mode of actions that have been evaluated and/or are currently being tested with the goal of achieving a NAFLD/NASH indication.
- Prevalence of steatohepatitis is increasing worldwide. Patients with obesity, type 2 diabetes (T2DM), and insulin resistance are specifically affected.
- There is no approved drug for the treatment of NASH but there are a wide variety of compounds with different modes of actions currently in clinical development.
- The ideal treatment is expected, in the short term, to reduce liver inflammation and fibrosis, and improve insulin sensitivity and metabolic complications; however, in the long term, a benefit in reducing cardiovascular and hepatic outcomes will need to be demonstrated.