Azathioprine with Allopurinol Is a Promising First-Line Therapy for Inflammatory Bowel Diseases

Elsa L S A van Liere, Ahmed B Bayoumy, Chris J J Mulder, Ben Warner, Bu Hayee, Bilal A Mateen, Jonathan D Nolan, Nanne K H de Boer, Simon H C Anderson, Azhar R Ansari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Beneficial response to first-line immunosuppressive azathioprine in patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is low due to high rates of adverse events. Co-administrating allopurinol has been shown to improve tolerability. However, data on this co-therapy as first-line treatment are scarce.

AIM: Retrospective comparison of long-term effectiveness and safety of first-line low-dose azathioprine-allopurinol co-therapy (LDAA) with first-line azathioprine monotherapy (AZAm) in patients with IBD without metabolite monitoring.

METHODS: Clinical benefit was defined as ongoing therapy without initiation of steroids, biologics or surgery. Secondary outcomes included CRP, HBI/SCCAI, steroid withdrawal and adverse events.

RESULTS: In total, 166 LDAA and 118 AZAm patients (median follow-up 25 and 27 months) were evaluated. Clinical benefit was more frequently observed in LDAA patients at 6 months (74% vs. 53%, p = 0.0003), 12 months (54% vs. 37%, p = 0.01) and in the long-term (median 36 months; 37% vs. 24%, p = 0.04). Throughout follow-up, AZAm patients were 60% more likely to fail therapy, due to a higher intolerance rate (45% vs. 26%, p = 0.001). Only 73% of the effective AZA dose was tolerated in AZAm patients, while LDAA could be initiated and maintained at its target dose. Incidence of myelotoxicity and elevated liver enzymes was similar in both cohorts, and both conditions led to LDAA withdrawal in only 2%. Increasing allopurinol from 100 to 200-300 mg/day significantly lowered liver enzymes in 5/6 LDAA patients with hepatotoxicity.

CONCLUSIONS: Our poor AZAm outcomes emphasize that optimization of azathioprine is needed. We demonstrated a long-term safe and more effective profile of first-line LDAA. This co-therapy may therefore be considered standard first-line immunosuppressive.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4008-4019
Number of pages12
JournalDigestive Diseases and Sciences
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022

Cite this