A Role for Thiopurine Therapy

In high school, the usual advice on multiple choice questions was to avoid picking “always” and “never” on multiple choice questions.

A recent commentary (KH de Boer et al.”Thiopurine Therapy in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases: Making New Friends Should Not Mean Losing Old Ones”Gastroenterol 2019; 156: 11-4) makes the point that “never” is probably the wrong answer with regard to thiopurine usage.

Key points:

  • “Thiopurine therapy has proven its value in maintenance of remission, decreased need for surgery, lowered colorectal cancer risk, less phenotypic disease progression, and synergistic effects when used with infliximab therapy, including increased biologic drug levels and less antibody formation.”
  • “Notwithstanding the extensive experience by many physicians, the clinical use of conventional immunosuppressive therapies has been questioned in recent years.”
  • “In this issue of Gastroenterology, Hanauer et al share their expert opinion on the evolving use of thiopurines and methotrexate in daily practice. In their literature review, the importance of assessing the risks (infections and cancer risk) and benefits (maintenance of remission) of thiopurine therapy is highlighted”
  • Lymphoma risk: “The recent nationwide cohort study based on French National Health Insurance databases is illustrative. Including 189,289 patients, it was demonstrated that both thiopurine (adjusted hazard ratio of 2.6) and anti-TNF monotherapy (adjusted hazard ratio of 2.4) were associated with a similar small but statistically significant increased risk of lymphoma. Furthermore, combination therapy of thiopurine and anti-TNF was associated with a higher chance of developing a lymphoma (adjusted hazard ratio of 6.1).”
  • “The individual absolute risk remains low, especially in patients without additional risk factors such as a young age in male patients and negative Epstein-Barr virus serology.”

The author’s conclusion: “The thiopurines are not perfect regarding both efficacy and toxicity, but in recent years they may have been portrayed in a worse light than they deserved. No doubt, the thiopurines will be surpassed eventually by newer safe and economical (oral) therapies, but it is too early to discard these old friends.”

Related blog posts:

Disclaimer: These blog posts are for educational purposes only. Specific dosing of medications (along with potential adverse effects) should be confirmed by prescribing physician.  This content is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment provided by a qualified healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a condition.



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