Background A combination of horse anti-thymocyte globulin and cyclosporine produces responses in 60-70% of patients with severe aplastic anemia. We performed a phase II study of rabbit anti-thymocyte globulin and cyclosporine as first-line therapy for severe aplastic anemia. DESIGN AND METHODS: Twenty patients with severe aplastic anemia treated with rabbit anti-thymocyte globulin were compared to 67 historical control cases with matched clinical characteristics treated with horse anti-thymocyte globulin. RESULTS: Response rates at 3, 6 and 12 months were similar for patients treated with rabbit anti-thymocyte globulin or horse anti-thymocyte globulin: 40% versus 55% (P=0.43), 45% versus 58% (P=0.44) and 50% versus 58% (P=0.61), respectively. No differences in early mortality rates or overall survival were observed. We then performed multivariable analyses of response at 6 months and overall survival and identified the presence of a paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria clone (P=0.01) and a pretreatment absolute reticulocyte count greater than 30×10(9)/L (P=0.007) as independent predictors of response and younger age (P=0.003), higher pretreatment absolute neutrophil (P=0.02) and absolute lymphocyte counts (P=0.03) as independent predictors of overall survival. None of the immunogenetic polymorphisms studied was predictive of response to immunosupressive therapy. Conclusions Despite reports suggesting differences in biological activity of different anti-thymocyte globulin preparations, rabbit and horse anti-thymocyte globulin appear to have a similar efficacy for up-front treatment of severe aplastic anemia. Clinicaltrial.gov: NCT01231841).