A new study has shown that the need for bowel surgery is reduced for up to 60% in people with Crohn’s disease if they are given prolonged treatment with drugs called thiopurines. Crohn's causes inflammation of the intestine and affects more than 250,000 people in the UK.
Thiopurines are a class of drugs that are used to suppress the normal activity of the body's immune system and they have been used in the treatment of inflammatory bowel conditions like Crohn's disease since the 1970’s. However, it is only now that their long-term benefits have come to light.
The new research was carried out by St George's Hospital, London, The University of London and Imperial College, London. More than 5,000 patients in the UK living with Crohn's disease were monitored for more than 20 years and the effect of taking thiopurine drugs was noted. It was found that patients taking thiopurines for more than 12 months had a 60% reduction within the first 5 years of diagnosis.
Gastroenterologist Dr Richard Pollok, an honorary senior lecturer at St George's, University of London, said "Our discovery is timely since new guidelines from the USA have played down the benefits of these drugs in favour of newer agents. A year of treatment with the newer 'biologics', which are administered by injection, cost about £10,000 more compared to thiopurines.”
There has been a major increase in the numbers of patients receiving these drugs in the last decade and rates of surgery have dropped, partly as a result of these and other treatments. However, up to a quarter of patients still go on to have their first corrective surgery to remove the worst affected areas of the intestine within 5 years of being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.
"The fact that thiopurines can cut the need for surgical intervention and remain affordable is good news for patients and the NHS" commented Dr Pollock.
The study is published in the and was funded by the National Institute for Health Research.