A trial of mercaptopurine is a safe strategy in patients with inflammatory bowel disease intolerant to azathioprine: an observational study, systematic review and meta-analysis
Thiopurines maintain remission and modify disease course in inflammatory bowel disease. Use is limited by intolerance and subsequent drug withdrawal in approximately 17% of patients treated with azathioprine. Previous case series have addressed the success rates of re-treatment with mercaptopurine in these individuals.
To determine the rate of tolerance when trialling mercaptopurine in azathioprine-intolerant patients and the factors predictive of success, and to perform a systematic review and meta-analysis of these data with other published data sets.
A retrospective observational study of 149 patients with IBD (82 with Crohn's disease and 67 with ulcerative colitis) previously intolerant of azathioprine subsequently treated with mercaptopurine was performed. A meta-analysis was undertaken of all published studies of mercaptopurine use in azathioprine-intolerant patients (455 patients in 11 included studies).
Mercaptopurine was tolerated by 58% of azathioprine-intolerant patients in the Edinburgh cohort. In the meta-analysis, 68% tolerated mercaptopurine. A higher proportion of those in the meta-analysis with GI toxicity (62%) or hepatotoxicity (81%) were able to tolerate mercaptopurine than those with flu-like illness (36%). Among those patients who ceased mercaptopurine for further adverse effects, 59% experienced the same adverse effect as they had with azathioprine.
This meta-analysis shows that switching to mercaptopurine is a safe therapeutic strategy for over two-thirds of azathioprine-intolerant patients and may help optimise immunomodulatory therapy in inflammatory bowel disease. A trial of mercaptopurine should be attempted in IBD patients (except those with acute pancreatitis or bone marrow aplasia) before considering thiopurine intolerance.