Immunomodulator therapy in inflammatory bowel disease

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Opinion statement

  • 6-Mercaptopurine and its prodrug counterpart, azathioprine, have proven efficacy in the induction and maintenance of remission, fistula closure, and steroid sparing in patients with Crohn’s disease. Long-term follow-up has demonstrated the safety of the purine analogues, with no increased risk of malignancy. For patients with Crohn’s disease intolerant or unresponsive to azathioprine or 6-mercaptopurine, methotrexate has emerged as an effective alternative.

  • In patients with severe ulcerative colitis, intravenous cyclosporine is highly efficacious in the short term, and with the addition of azathioprine or 6-mercaptopurine to oral cyclosporine, long-term remission rates of 60% to 70% can be achieved. Azathioprine or 6-mercaptopurine therapy is effective in patients with steroid-dependent or steroid-refractory colitis and is valuable in maintaining remission. Neither methotrexate nor cyclosporine has been shown to be effective for maintenance therapy in patients with ulcerative colitis.

  • Current data are insufficient to recommend routine use of genetic or enzymatic testing of thiopurine methyltransferase or measurements of blood 6-thioguanine metabolites to guide 6-mercaptopurine or azathioprine dosing.