6-Thioguanine seems promising in azathioprine- or 6-mercaptopurine-intolerant inflammatory bowel disease patients: a short-term safety assessment

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6-Mercaptopurine (6-MP) and azathioprine (AZA) have proven efficacy in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). However, adverse events leading to discontinuation may occur in 10–20% of patients. The efficacy of AZA and 6-MP is based on formation of their active metabolites, the 6-thioguaninenucleotides (6-TGNs). Therefore, 6-thioguanine (6-TG), an agent leading more directly to the formation of 6-TGNs and until recently used only in patients suffering from leukaemia, may be an alternative in AZA or 6-MP intolerance. The purpose of our study was to assess the short-term safety of 6-TG.


Thirty-two IBD patients with previously established AZA or 6-MP intolerance were treated with 6-TG in doses of 20 mg (n = 19) or 40 mg (n = 13) once daily. Safety parameters were obtained at 0, 1, 2, 4 and 8 weeks after start of medication. Primary outcome measures were the ability to tolerate 6-TG and the occurrence of adverse events. Secondary outcome definitions included laboratory parameters.


Twenty-six (81%) patients were able to tolerate 6-TG during the first 8 weeks. In three of six patients, side effects leading to discontinuation were probably (n = 2) or obviously (n = 1) related to 6-TG. No clinically relevant haematological events or hepatotoxicity occurred in the observed period. Steady-state 6-TG levels were significantly higher with 40 mg once daily (1621 ± 828 picomol/8 × 108 red blood cells (RBC)) than with 20 mg once daily (937 ± 325 picomol/8 × 108 RBC; P = 0.001).


6-TG treatment seems promising in AZA- or 6-MP-intolerant IBD patients. However, long-term safety and efficacy have yet to be determined.

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