Long-term efficacy, tolerability and retention rate of azathioprine in 103 aquaporin-4 antibody-positive neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder patients: a multicentre retrospective observational study from the UK.
Elsone L., Kitley J., Luppe S., Lythgoe D., Mutch K., Jacob S., Brown R., Moss K., McNeillis B., Goh YY., Leite MI., Robertson N., Palace J., Jacob A.
BACKGROUND: Azathioprine (AZA) is a common immunosuppressive drug used for relapse prevention in neuromyelitis optica (NMO). OBJECTIVES: The objective of this paper is to assess efficacy, tolerability and retention of AZA in a large NMO cohort. METHODS: We conducted a retrospective review of medical records of 103 aquaporin-4 antibody-positive NMO and NMO spectrum disorder (NMOSD) patients treated with AZA. RESULTS: This is the largest reported cohort of AQP4-Ab positive patients treated with AZA. Eighty-nine per cent (n = 92) had reduction in median annualised relapse rates from 1.5 (IQR 0.6-4.0) to 0 (IQR 0-0.27, p < 0.00005) with treatment. Sixty-one per cent (n = 63) remained relapse free at a median follow-up of 18 months. Neurological function improved or stabilised in 78%. At last follow-up, treatment was discontinued in 46% (n = 47). Of these, 62% (n = 29) were because of side effects, 19% (n = 9) because of death, 15% (n = 7) because of ongoing disease activity, and 2% (n = 1) because of pregnancy. Using Kaplan-Meyer curves, we estimate that 73%, 58%, 47% and 33% of patients will remain on AZA for longer than one, three, five and 10 years, respectively, after initiation of treatment. CONCLUSIONS: AZA is a modestly effective treatment for NMO. However, many patients discontinue AZA over time and this seems to reflect poor tolerability more than lack of efficacy.