Background: Azathioprine is a useful agent in the management of inflammatory bowel disease. Its use is limited by its side-effect profile. Marrow toxicity occurs in approximately 3.2% of patients and is known to be associated with diminished thiopurine methyltransferase enzyme activity resulting from genetic polymorphisms.
Aim: To evaluate the cost-effectiveness of screening for thiopurine methyltransferase gene polymorphisms prior to initiation of azathioprine therapy.
Methods: Analysis of the literature was undertaken to calculate the expected frequency of leucopenia and its relationship with thiopurine methyltransferase polymorphisms in a model of theoretical inflammatory bowel disease patients. Decision analysis was then applied to assess the cost of a pre-treatment genotyping strategy, taking account of direct costs and cost per life-year saved.
Results: In 1000 inflammatory bowel disease patients treated with azathioprine, 32 will develop myelosuppression and one will die because of this. Of those who develop myelosuppression during azathioprine therapy, 32% are attributable to lower thiopurine methyltransferase activity. Pre-treatment genotyping costs pound 347 per life-year saved for a 30 year old and pound 817 per life-year saved for a 60 year old. This compares favourably with other health care technologies.
Conclusion: The use of pre-treatment screening for thiopurine methyltransferase polymorphisms in inflammatory bowel disease patients commencing azathioprine therapy represents good value for money.