Horse anti-thymocyte globulin (h-ATG) and ciclosporin are the initial therapy for most patients with severe aplastic anaemia (SAA), but there is no practical and reliable method to predict response to this treatment. To determine whether pretreatment blood counts discriminate patients with SAA who have a higher likelihood of haematological response at 6 months to immunosuppressive therapy (IST), we conducted a single institution retrospective analysis on 316 SAA patients treated with h-ATG-based IST from 1989 to 2005. In multivariate analysis, younger age, higher baseline absolute reticulocyte count (ARC), and absolute lymphocyte count (ALC) were highly predictive of response at 6 months. Patients with baseline ARC ≥ 25 × 109/l and ALC ≥ 1 × 109/l had a much greater probability of response at 6 months following IST compared to those with lower ARC and ALC (83% vs. 41%, respectively; P < 0·001). This higher likelihood of response translated to greater rate of 5-year survival in patients in the high ARC/ALC group (92%) compared to those with a low ARC/ALC (53%). In the era of IST, the baseline ARC and ALC together serve as a simple predictor of response following IST, which should guide in risk stratification among patients with SAA.