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Keywords:

  • anti-TNF;
  • Crohn's disease;
  • inflammatory bowel disease;
  • loss of response;
  • thiopurine;
  • thiopurines

Abstract

Background and Aim

Anti-tumor necrosis factor (TNF) antibodies are effective in maintaining remission in Crohn's disease. However, a significant proportion of patients lose response to these agents with time. This study aimed to determine whether the introduction of a thiopurine in patients who have lost response to anti-TNF monotherapy results in regained response.

Methods

Five patients (four males; aged 22–38 years) with active Crohn's disease, who had an initial response to anti-TNF therapy but had lost response, were commenced on azathioprine or mercaptopurine at standard doses while continuing anti-TNF therapy. All had previously failed thiopurine therapy prior to starting anti-TNF treatment.

Results

All patients experienced improved clinical symptoms within 2–6 months, with benefit sustained over a mean follow-up of 19 months. Two patients with an elevated C-reactive protein at the time of thiopurine addition demonstrated a fall in C-reactive protein. Colonoscopy before and after thiopurine addition in four patients showed improvement in all, with mucosal healing achieved in two. No adverse effects of treatment were noted.

Conclusions

Addition of a thiopurine in patients who have lost response to anti-TNF monotherapy is an effective strategy to recapture response even if the patient has previously failed thiopurine therapy. Thiopurines may reduce immunogenicity or act synergistically with anti-TNF therapy.