Current medical research and opinion

Anti-tumor necrosis factor agents reduce corticosteroid use compared with azathioprine in patients with Crohn's disease.

PMID 24884302


Corticosteroids are effective for inducing remission of Crohn's disease, but should not be used long term due to risk of adverse events. Benefits of immunosuppressants (e.g., azathioprine) and anti tumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF) agents include reduced reliance on corticosteroid-based therapies and avoidance of corticosteroid-associated adverse events. Our aim was to evaluate corticosteroid-sparing effects in patients with Crohn's disease upon being newly initiated on an anti-TNFα agent or azathioprine. An analysis of US patient claims data from January 2008 to October 2011 was conducted using Truven Health MarketScan Research databases. Corticosteroid-sparing within 12 and 24 months after initiation of an anti-TNF agent (adalimumab, certolizumab pegol, or infliximab) or azathioprine was evaluated. In total, 2900 patients received a prescription for corticosteroids within the 6 month period before the initiation of an anti-TNF agent (63%) or azathioprine (37%). When certolizumab pegol, infliximab, or adalimumab were collectively compared with azathioprine, patients initiated on an anti-TNF agent avoided further prescriptions for corticosteroids at a greater rate than patients receiving azathioprine at 12 (43% vs. 27%, respectively; P < 0.0001) and 24 months (33% vs. 23%, respectively; P = 0.028). Individually, all anti-TNF agents showed higher rates of corticosteroid-sparing compared with azathioprine at 12 (P < 0.0001-0.011), but not 24 months (P = 0.0086-0.24). Key limitations of this study include lack of data regarding disease severity, response and assumptions of improvement, and compliance. Patients with Crohn's disease were able to avoid new prescriptions for corticosteroids at a statistically higher rate when treated with an anti-TNF agent. These results demonstrate that the anti-TNF agents are superior to azathioprine for minimizing exposure to corticosteroids.