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Comparative Efficacy of 9 Major Drugs for Postendoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography Pancreatitis

A Network Meta-Analysis

Lyu, Yunxiao MD; Wang, Bin MD; Cheng, Yunxiao MD; Xu, Yueming MD; Du, Weibing MD

Author Information
Surgical Laparoscopy, Endoscopy & Percutaneous Techniques: December 2019 - Volume 29 - Issue 6 - p 426-432
doi: 10.1097/SLE.0000000000000707


Postendoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) is widely used in the diagnosis and treatment of biliary and pancreatic diseases. Complications after ERCP include postoperative pancreatitis, postoperative bleeding, and postoperative gastrointestinal perforation. Post-ERCP pancreatitis (PEP) is one of the most common complications with an incidence rate of 1% to 10% in the average-risk population and 15% to 30% among high-risk patients.1–5 Although previous studies have shown that activation of proteolytic enzymes leads to cellular injury and autodigestion of the pancreas,6,7 the specific mechanism of PEP remains unclear. Among the strategies proposed to prevent or reduce the severity of PEP, pancreatic stent implantation has been shown to be potentially effective in preventing PEP, although this method requires relatively high-technical requirements and thus increased cost to the patients.8,9 Meanwhile, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, mainly indomethacin and diclofenac), protease inhibitors [somatostatin, gabexate (GAB), octreotide, ulinastatin, and nafamostat], glyceryl trinitrate (GTN), and allopurinol are considered to be potential drugs for effectively preventing PEP.10–15 However, their clinical benefits of reducing the risk of PEP appear to be contradictory and the optimal drug for protection against PEP is unclear. To the best of our knowledge, there are few head-to-head studies comparing the above drugs and no network meta-analyses on drugs for PEP. Therefore, we performed a network meta-analysis to inform clinical practice by comparing 9 major drugs for PEP based on published clinical studies.


Search Strategy

Two researchers independently performed a comprehensive and systematic search of the literature up to October 2018 on PubMed, Embase, Web of Science, the Cochrane Central Library, and The language of the publications was restricted to English. The search terms included, but were not limited to the following: endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography, ERCP, pancreatitis, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, NSAIDs, indomethacin, diclofenac, GTN, nitroglycerin, glyceryl nitrate, octreotide, somatostatin, allopurinol, nafamostat and ulinastatin. The search was limited initially to publications of randomized controlled trials (RCTs). The RCTs must be comparing pharmacological agents with placebo or no treatment for PEP. We excluded studies that (1) were non-RCTs, retrospective studies, review articles, case reports, abstract, editorials, and letters to the editor; (2) had insufficient data on outcome measures. The references of the articles identified after the initial search were also manually reviewed.

Data Extraction

The original data from the included studies were independently extracted by 2 reviewers and entered into a standard form: (1) first author, year of publication, and country where the study took place in; (2) pharmacological agents (dose and route of administration), sample size, age, sex, and outcomes of PEP. Conflicts in data abstraction were resolved by consensus and by referring to the original articles.

Quality Assessment

Two independent investigators assessed the quality of the literature in accordance with the Cochrane Collaboration Handbook.16 The assessment tool included the following criteria: random sequence generation, allocation concealment, blinding of participants and personnel, blinding of the results assessment, incomplete data of the results, selective reporting, and other sources of bias. Disagreement was resolved by discussion with a third investigator.

Statistical Analysis

The meta-analysis was performed according to the PRISMA checklist. The odds ratio (OR) for dischotomous data and 95% credible intervals (Crl) were used for the estimates of the network-analysis. Publication bias was evaluated by the χ2 test and funnel plots. Heterogeneity among studies was evaluated by the χ2 test. A two-tailed P-value of <0.05 was considered statistically significant. The network meta-analyses using the Bayesian methods were performed in Stata 15 (Stata Corp), JAGS, and R (version: x64 3.5.1) with the gemtc package (version: 0.8-2), and rjags package (version: 4-6) with a random-effect model. By using the ranking probabilities, treatment hierarchy was summarized and reported as surface under the cumulative ranking curve (SUCRA).


Selected Studies and Their Characteristics

A detailed flowchart of the selection process is depicted in Figure 1. Using our search criteria, we identified a total of 1879 papers from the respective search engines, of which 1064 duplicate articles were excluded. The remaining 306 studies were retrieved for assessment of their titles and abstracts, leaving 86 articles that met the inclusion criteria. Finally, 86 RCTs were included in the meta-analysis. The studies were published between 1980 and 2008. The mean study sample size was 354 participants, ranging from 33 to 2014. Overall, 12,728 patients were assigned to a treatment group and 12,518 patients to the placebo group. All studies provided full data of PEP. The incidence of PEP in the included studies ranged from 0% to 26.1%. Countries included in the studies were Australia, China, Croatia, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Milano, Palestine, Poland, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, UK, and USA. Table 1 shows a summary of the studies included in this meta-analysis. A summary of the studies included in the analysis together with Jadad scores are shown in Appendix Table 1 (Supplemental Digital Content 1,

Flow diagram of the published articles evaluated for inclusion in this meta-analysis.
Summary of the Studies Included in This Meta-analysis

Figure 2 shows the network of comparison of 9 drugs for the prevention of PEP. All drugs had been studied in at least 1 placebo-controlled trial. A total of 83 2-arm RCTs and 3 3-arm RCTs were included in our analysis. Overall, 6 RCTs compared allopurinol with placebo, 1 study compared diclofenac with indomethacin; 7 studies compared diclofenac with placebo; 3 studies compared GAB with placebo; 2 studies compared between GAB, somatostatin, and placebo; 2 studies compared GAB with ulinastatin; 1 study compared between ulinastatin, nafamostat, and placebo; 12 studies compared GTN with placebo; 12 studies compared indomethacin with placebo; 4 studies compared nafamostat with placebo; 18 studies compared octreotide with placebo; 1 study compared octreotide with allopurinol; 12 studies compared somatostatin with placebo; and 5 studies compared ulinastatin with placebo.

Network of drug comparison. The width of the lines is proportional to the number of trials comparing a certain pair of treatments. The size of every circle is proportional to the sample size of the intervention. A: allopurinol; B: diclofenac; C: GAB; D: GTN; E: indomethacin; F: nafamostat; G: octreotide; H: placebo; I: somatostatin; J: ulinastatin. GAB indicates gabexate; GTN, glyceryl trinitrate.

Figure 3 shows the network of comparison of efficacy. Compared with placebo, diclofenac (OR=0.49; 95% Crl, 0.27-0.89), GAB (OR=0.48; 95% Crl, 0.26-0.86), GTN (OR=0.59; 95% Crl, 0.36-0.97), indomethacin (OR=0.58; 95% Crl, 0.38-0.89), somatostatin (OR=0.61; 95% Crl, 0.39-0.94), and ulinastatin (OR=0.52; 95% Crl, 0.26-1.0) were more effective in protecting against PEP, with ORs ranging from 0.48 to 0.72. However, allopurinol (OR=0.72; 95% Crl, 0.37-1.4), nafamostat (OR=0.68; 95% Crl, 0.33-1.4), and octreotide (OR=0.86; 95% Crl, 0.54-1.3) showed similar efficacy as placebo.

Head-to-head comparison of the efficacy of the nine drugs. Drugs are reported in alphabetical order. The data are ORs (95% CrI) comparing the column-defining treatment with the row-defining treatment. GAB indicates gabexate; GTN, glyceryl trinitrate.

To compare the effects of preventing PEP between different drugs, we conducted a head-to-head analysis. Results of the network meta-analysis are presented as a league table in Figure 3. The head-to-head analysis demonstrated no significant differences between the 9 drugs. The OR (95% Crl) ranged from 0.56 (0.26-1.17, GAB vs. octreotide) to 1.64 (0.72-3.67, octreotide vs. ulinastatin).

The ranking of treatments based on cumulative probability plots and SUCRAs is presented in Figure 4. In terms of prognosis, the most effective treatment was GAB (SUCRA=70.6%) and the least effective was octreotide (SUCRA=28%; Fig. 4). The cumulative probability of efficacy of allopurinol, diclofenac, GTN, indomethacin, nafamostat, somatostain, and ulinastatin were 37.3%, 58.8%, 52.7%, 55.9%, 57.3%, 54.7%, and 64.0%, respectively.

The surface under the cumulative ranking plots based on cumulative probabilities of interventions. A: allopurinol; B: diclofenac; C: GAB; D: GTN; E: indomethacin; F: nafamostat; G: octreotide; H: placebo; I: somatostatin; J: ulinastatin. GAB indicates gabexate; GTN, glyceryl trinitrate; SUCRA, surface under the cumulative ranking curve.

Consistency analysis with node-splitting was performed to evaluate the inconsistency by comparing the differences between direct and indirect effects (Fig. 5). The analysis suggested no significant inconsistency. The comparison-adjusted funnel plots against placebo suggested that no significant publication bias was observed (Fig. 6).

Consistency analysis with node-splitting analysis. A: allopurinol; B: diclofenac; C: GAB; D: GTN; E: indomethacin; F: nafamostat; G: octreotide; H: placebo; I: somatostatin; J: ulinastatin; ROR: relative odds ratio.
Comparison-adjusted funnel plot for the network meta-analysis. The red line supports the null hypothesis that the study-specific effect sizes do not differ from the respective comparison-specific pooled effect estimates. Different colors represent different comparisons. A: allopurinol; B: diclofenac; C: GAB; D: GTN; E: indomethacin; F: nafamostat; G: octreotide; H: placebo; I: somatostatin; J: ulinastatin. CI indicates confidence interval; GAB, gabexate; GTN, glyceryl trinitrate.


This network meta-analysis represents the most comprehensive synthesis of data for current major pharmacological treatments for PEP. This study demonstrated that diclofenac, GAB, GTN, indomethacin, somatostatin, and ulinastatin were significantly more effective than placebo. Overall analyses indicated that GAB had the highest SUCRA values among the 9 drugs, suggesting that it is the most effective in preventing PEP. However, indomethacin and diclofenac may be the optimal drugs when the cost-effectiveness of the drugs is considered as well.

PEP is one of the most common post-ERCP complications. Variable drugs have been applied to the prevention of PEP, including NSAIDs, protease inhibitors, GTN, and allopurinol. However, many drugs such as antibiotics and prednisone have been speculated to not reduce the risk of PEP. The 9 pharmacological agents included in our study are widely used in the world and may be effective in reducing the risk of PEP. With a lack of consistent data to inform clinical practice of the optimal drug for preventing PEP, we conducted the present network meta-analysis.

Previous studies have demonstrated that protease inhibitors can inhibit trypsin and other proteases, which play an important role in the progression of PEP.17,18 The protease inhibitors GAB, ulinastatin, and nafamostat have been designed to reduce the risk of PEP.19–21 Although several RCTs have evaluated the protease inhibitors for the prevention of PEP, the low quality and small sample sizes of the trials gave no unanimous conclusion.21–27 An updated meta-analysis with highly heterogeneous data has shown that GAB and ulinastatin have no significant benefits over placebo.28 Our current analysis indicated that GAB and ulinastatin could reduce the risk of PEP after ERCP. The strength of our research is supported by the inclusion of the latest RCTs and several multiarm studies involving GAB and ulinastatin.22,29,30 Fujishiro et al27 have revealed that ulinastatin has similar effects to GAB in the prevention of PEP. Although the protease inhibitor nafamostat has demonstrated its effect in preventing PEP in previous RCTs,21,31 a meta-analysis published in 2015 showed that nafamostat was effective in reducing the incidence of PEP compared with placebo.32 Owing to the limited studies, the value of nafamostat in preventing PEP has still been controversial. This current analysis indicated that nafamostat was not superior to placebo in reducing the risk of PEP. As there are few studies that focus on nafamostat, GAB, and ulinastatin, more large-scale studies are needed in the future to determine their effectiveness in preventing PEP.

In 2012, researchers reported that NSAIDs could effectively prevent PEP.33 Since then, scholars have conducted different studies on the prevention of PEP by NSAIDs.34–36 NSAIDs, especially indomethacin and diclofenac, are particularly potent inhibitors of phospholipase A2, which plays an important role in initiating pancreatitis.37 Given these data, the European Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ESGE) recommends routine administration of indomethacin to reduce the risk of PEP, but not with the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy guidelines.6,38 Several meta-analyses have examined the effects of NSAIDs, and the results have been confusing.39–41 Current research on NSAIDs for the prevention of PEP include diclofenac, indomethacin, and naproxen, among which the former 2 are the most commonly used. Few studies compare between diclofenac and indomethacin in preventing PEP, hence the need for a network meta-analysis. Our study demonstrated that indomethacin and diclofenac were more effective in preventing PEP compared with placebo. The results of SUCRA indicated that diclofenac had a higher value of SUCRA compared with indomethacin. However, the different studies included used different doses, timing of administration, and modes of administration, which may have an impact on the results. An updated meta-analysis enrolling 21 RCTs has indicated that the prevention of PEP with indomethacin and diclofenac is related to the dosage, route of administration, and the subject.39 Therefore, more high-quality head-to-head studies are required for an unbiased conclusion.

Evidence for the efficacy of somatostatin and the long-acting cyclic octapeptide octreotide in preventing PEP is poor. Somatostatin and octreotide are potent inhibitors of pancreatic exocrine functions that exert a wide spectrum of biological activities,42 but their clinical benefits on PEP have not been well established. In 2007, Andriulli et al43 reported that somatostatin was not effective in reducing the incidence of PEP.43 A meta-analysis conducted by Omata et al44 indicated that somatostatin and high-dose octreotide may prevent PEP. Our meta-analysis including the most recent RCTs supported that somatostatin was more effective than placebo whereas octreotide did not reduce the incidence of PEP. The effects of these 2 drugs in preventing PEP may however be related to the dose and route of administration. In 2016, Hu et al45 performed a meta-analysis involving 4192 patients and revealed that a single bolus or long-term infusion could reduce the incidence of PEP, but not short-term infusion.46 In the studies included in this analysis, the doses and routes of administration of somatostatin and octreotide were not consistently matching, and thus may have a certain degree of influence on the results. Further investigation is required to uncover appropriate routes of administration of somastation and octreotide to prevent PEP.

GTN, a nitric oxide donor, inhibits the sphincter of Oddi(SO) tonic and phasic contraction, which may be accounted for the prevention of PEP.47 Previous meta-analysis that seek to assess the protective effect of GTN against PEP have shown opposite results.48–51 The current study, which presented data from the most recent trials, reinforced the findings of some previous studies that GTN was more effective than placebo.

Meanwhile, studies of allopurinol on the prevention of PEP in animal models have revealed that it decreases the degree of pancreatic inflammation induced by pancreatography.52 Allopurinol inhibits the production of oxygen-derived free radicals which play an important role in the progression of pancreatitis.53 Consistent with a previous meta-analysis of 6 studies,54 our results demonstrated that allopurinol did not lower the risk of PEP.

In our network meta-analysis, GAB showed the highest SUCRA value, indicating that GAB had the strongest preventive effect on PEP. Two RCTs conducted by Andriulli and colleagues have shown that somatostatin and GAB do not lower the risk of PEP and the difference between the efficacy of somatostatin and that of GAB is not significant. The SUCRA values of diclofenac and indomethacin were 58.8% and 55.9%, respectively from our analysis. These 2 drugs are inexpensive and easy to use, and are recommended as the conventional drugs for the prevention of PEP in many clinical guidelines. A retrospective study conducted by Guglielmi and colleagues has indicated that rectal indomethacin is associated with better efficacy than GAB on the prevention of PEP (1.03% vs. 3.31%). Further studies are still needed to determine the optimal patient population, dosage, and route of administration.

Our network meta-analysis showed that diclofenac, GAB, GTN, indomethacin, somatostatin, and ulinastatin were more efficacious than placebo for the prevention of PEP. GAB may be the most effective drug among those studied. Our study was the first network meta-analysis of common clinical drugs used in the prevention of PEP, and included the largest number of studies and sample sizes, with a number of head-to-head and multiarm studies. However, the following limitations have been considered. First, different drug doses and routes of administration were used in the included studies, which may have a certain impact on the results. Studies have shown that different routes of administration affect the roles of NSAIDs and somatostatin in preventing PEP. Second, the definitions of PEP used are the same despite the large time span of the conduct of the included trials. Third, there are few head-to-head clinical trials in the included studies. The experience of the present meta-analysis warrants a large number of high-quality multiarm and head-to-head trials using similar doses and routes of administration, to enhance the validity of comparison between the clinical drugs for the prevention of PEP.


The authors thank Amy Tong from Liwen Bianji, Edanz Editing, China (, for editing the English draft of this manuscript.


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pancreatitis; ERCP; drug; randomized controlled trial; meta-analysis

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