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Significant adverse reactions associated with COPEGUS/PEGASYS combination therapy include severe depression and suicidal ideation, hemolytic anemia, suppression of bone marrow function, autoimmune and infectious disorders, ophthalmologic disorders, cerebrovascular disorders, pulmonary dysfunction, colitis, pancreatitis, and diabetes.
The PEGASYS Package Insert should be reviewed in its entirety for additional safety information prior to initiation of combination treatment.
COPEGUS may cause birth defects and/or death of the exposed fetus. Ribavirin has demonstrated significant teratogenic and/or embryocidal effects in all animal species in which adequate studies have been conducted. These effects occurred at doses as low as one twentieth of the recommended human dose of ribavirin.
COPEGUS therapy should not be started unless a report of a negative pregnancy test has been obtained immediately prior to planned initiation of therapy. Extreme care must be taken to avoid pregnancy in female patients and in female partners of male patients. Patients should be instructed to use at least two forms of effective contraception during treatment and for 6 months after treatment has been stopped. Pregnancy testing should occur monthly during COPEGUS therapy and for 6 months after therapy has stopped [see BOXED WARNING, CONTRAINDICATIONS, Use in Specific Populations, and PATIENT INFORMATION].
The primary toxicity of ribavirin is hemolytic anemia, which was observed in approximately 13% of all COPEGUS/PEGASYS-treated subjects in clinical trials. Anemia associated with COPEGUS occurs within 1 to 2 weeks of initiation of therapy. Because the initial drop in hemoglobin may be significant, it is advised that hemoglobin or hematocrit be obtained pretreatment and at week 2 and week 4 of therapy or more frequently if clinically indicated. Patients should then be followed as clinically appropriate. Caution should be exercised in initiating treatment in any patient with baseline risk of severe anemia (e.g., spherocytosis, history of gastrointestinal bleeding) [see DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION].
Fatal and nonfatal myocardial infarctions have been reported in patients with anemia caused by COPEGUS. Patients should be assessed for underlying cardiac disease before initiation of ribavirin therapy. Patients with pre-existing cardiac disease should have electrocardiograms administered before treatment, and should be appropriately monitored during therapy. If there is any deterioration of cardiovascular status, therapy should be suspended or discontinued [see DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION]. Because cardiac disease may be worsened by drug-induced anemia, patients with a history of significant or unstable cardiac disease should not use COPEGUS [see BOXED WARNING and DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION].
Chronic hepatitis C (CHC) patients with cirrhosis may be at risk of hepatic decompensation and death when treated with alpha interferons, including PEGASYS. Cirrhotic CHC patients coinfected with HIV receiving highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) and interferon alfa-2a with or without ribavirin appear to be at increased risk for the development of hepatic decompensation compared to patients not receiving HAART. In Study NR15961 [see Clinical Studies], among 129 CHC/HIV cirrhotic patients receiving HAART, 14 (11%) of these patients across all treatment arms developed hepatic decompensation resulting in 6 deaths. All 14 patients were on NRTIs, including stavudine, didanosine, abacavir, zidovudine, and lamivudine. These small numbers of patients do not permit discrimination between specific NRTIs or the associated risk. During treatment, patients' clinical status and hepatic function should be closely monitored for signs and symptoms of hepatic decompensation. Treatment with PEGASYS/COPEGUS should be discontinued immediately in patients with hepatic decompensation [see CONTRAINDICATIONS].
Severe acute hypersensitivity reactions (e.g., urticaria, angioedema, bronchoconstriction, and anaphylaxis) have been observed during alpha interferon and ribavirin therapy. If such a reaction occurs, therapy with PEGASYS and COPEGUS should be discontinued immediately and appropriate medical therapy instituted. Serious skin reactions including vesiculobullous eruptions, reactions in the spectrum of Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (erythema multiforme major) with varying degrees of skin and mucosal involvement and exfoliative dermatitis (erythroderma) have been reported in patients receiving PEGASYS with and without ribavirin. Patients developing signs or symptoms of severe skin reactions must discontinue therapy [see ADVERSE REACTIONS].
Dyspnea, pulmonary infiltrates, pneumonitis, pulmonary hypertension, and pneumonia have been reported during therapy with ribavirin and interferon. Occasional cases of fatal pneumonia have occurred. In addition, sarcoidosis or the exacerbation of sarcoidosis has been reported. If there is evidence of pulmonary infiltrates or pulmonary function impairment, patients should be closely monitored and, if appropriate, combination COPEGUS/PEGASYS treatment should be discontinued.
Bone Marrow Suppression
Pancytopenia (marked decreases in RBCs, neutrophils and platelets) and bone marrow suppression have been reported in the literature to occur within 3 to 7 weeks after the concomitant administration of pegylated interferon/ribavirin and azathioprine. In this limited number of patients (n=8), myelotoxicity was reversible within 4 to 6 weeks upon withdrawal of both HCV antiviral therapy and concomitant azathioprine and did not recur upon reintroduction of either treatment alone. PEGASYS, COPEGUS, and azathioprine should be discontinued for pancytopenia, and pegylated interferon/ribavirin should not be re-introduced with concomitant azathioprine [see DRUG INTERACTIONS].
COPEGUS and PEGASYS therapy should be suspended in patients with signs and symptoms of pancreatitis, and discontinued in patients with confirmed pancreatitis.
Impact on Growth in Pediatric Patients
Pediatric subjects treated with PEGASYS plus COPEGUS combination therapy showed a delay in weight and height increases after 48 weeks of therapy compared with baseline. Both weight and height for age z-scores as well as the percentiles of the normative population for subject weight and height decreased during treatment. At the end of 2 years follow-up after treatment, most subjects had returned to baseline normative growth curve percentiles for weight and height (mean weight for age percentile was 64% at baseline and 60% at 2 years posttreatment; mean height percentile was 54% at baseline and 56% at 2 years post-treatment). At the end of treatment, 43% of subjects experienced a weight percentile decrease of 15 percentiles or more, and 25% experienced a height percentile decrease of 15 percentiles or more on the normative growth curves. At 2 years post-treatment, 16% of subjects remained 15 percentiles or more below their baseline weight curve and 11% remained 15 percentiles or more below their baseline height curve.
Before beginning PEGASYS/COPEGUS combination therapy, standard hematological and biochemical laboratory tests are recommended for all patients. Pregnancy screening for women of childbearing potential must be performed. Patients who have pre-existing cardiac abnormalities should have electrocardiograms administered before treatment with PEGASYS/COPEGUS.
After initiation of therapy, hematological tests should be performed at 2 weeks and 4 weeks and biochemical tests should be performed at 4 weeks. Additional testing should be performed periodically during therapy. In adult clinical studies, the CBC (including hemoglobin level and white blood cell and platelet counts) and chemistries (including liver function tests and uric acid) were measured at 1, 2, 4, 6, and 8 weeks, and then every 4 to 6 weeks or more frequently if abnormalities were found. In the pediatric clinical trial, hematological and chemistry assessments were at 1, 3, 5, and 8 weeks, then every 4 weeks. Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) was measured every 12 weeks. Monthly pregnancy testing should be performed during combination therapy and for 6 months after discontinuing therapy.
The entrance criteria used for the clinical studies of COPEGUS and PEGASYS may be considered as a guideline to acceptable baseline values for initiation of treatment:
- Platelet count greater than or equal to 90,000 cells/mm³ (as low as 75,000 cells/mm³ in HCV patients with cirrhosis or 70,000 cells/mm³ in patients with CHC and HIV)
- Absolute neutrophil count (ANC) greater than or equal to 1500 cells/mm³
- TSH and T4 within normal limits or adequately controlled thyroid function
- CD4+ cell count greater than or equal to 200 cells/mm³ or CD4+ cell count greater than or equal to 100 cells/mm³ but less than 200 cells/mm³ and HIV-1 RNA less than 5,000 cells/mm³ in patients coinfected with HIV
- Hemoglobin greater than or equal to 12 g/dL for women and greater than or equal to 13 g/dL for men in CHC monoinfected patients
- Hemoglobin greater than or equal to 11 g/dL for women and greater than or equal to 12 g/dL for men in patients with CHC and HIV
Patient Counseling Information
- “See FDA-approved patient labeling (Medication Guide)”
Patients must be informed that ribavirin may cause birth defects and/or death of the exposed fetus. COPEGUS therapy must not be used by women who are pregnant or by men whose female partners are pregnant. Extreme care must be taken to avoid pregnancy in female patients and in female partners of male patients taking COPEGUS therapy and for 6 months post therapy. Patients should use two reliable methods of birth control while taking COPEGUS therapy and for 6 months post therapy. COPEGUS therapy should not be initiated until a report of a negative pregnancy test has been obtained immediately prior to initiation of therapy. Patients must perform a pregnancy test monthly during therapy and for 6 months post therapy.
Female patients of childbearing potential and male patients with female partners of childbearing potential must be advised of the teratogenic/embryocidal risks and must be instructed to practice effective contraception during COPEGUS therapy and for 6 months post therapy. Patients should be advised to notify the healthcare provider immediately in the event of a pregnancy [see CONTRAINDICATIONS and WARNINGS AND PRECAUTIONS].
The most common adverse event associated with ribavirin is anemia, which may be severe [see BOXED WARNING, WARNINGS AND PRECAUTIONS and ADVERSE REACTIONS]. Patients should be advised that laboratory evaluations are required prior to starting COPEGUS therapy and periodically thereafter [see WARNINGS AND PRECAUTIONS]. It is advised that patients be well hydrated, especially during the initial stages of treatment.
Patients should be advised to take COPEGUS with food.
Patients should be questioned about prior history of drug abuse before initiating COPEGUS/PEGASYS, as relapse of drug addiction and drug overdoses have been reported in patients treated with interferons.
Patients should be informed about what to do in the event they miss a dose of COPEGUS. The missed doses should be taken as soon as possible during the same day. Patients should not double the next dose. Patients should be advised to call their healthcare provider if they have questions.
Patients should be informed that the effect of PEGASYS/COPEGUS treatment of hepatitis C infection on transmission is not known, and that appropriate precautions to prevent transmission of hepatitis C virus during treatment or in the event of treatment failure should be taken.
Patients should be informed regarding the potential benefits and risks attendant to the use of COPEGUS. Instructions on appropriate use should be given, including review of the contents of the enclosed MEDICATION GUIDE, which is not a disclosure of all or possible adverse effects.
Carcinogenesis, Mutagenesis, Impairment of Fertility
In a p53 (+/-) mouse carcinogenicity study up to the maximum tolerated dose of 100 mg/kg/day, ribavirin was not oncogenic. Ribavirin was also not oncogenic in a rat 2-year carcinogenicity study at doses up to the maximum tolerated dose of 60 mg/kg/day. On a body surface area basis, these doses are approximately 0.5 and 0.6 times the maximum recommended daily human dose of ribavirin, respectively.
Ribavirin demonstrated mutagenic activity in the in vitro mouse lymphoma assay. No clastogenic activity was observed in an in vivo mouse micronucleus assay at doses up to 2000 mg/kg. However, results from studies published in the literature show clastogenic activity in the in vivo mouse micronucleus assay at oral doses up to 2000 mg/kg. A dominant lethal assay in rats was negative, indicating that if mutations occurred in rats they were not transmitted through male gametes.
Impairment of Fertility
In a fertility study in rats, ribavirin showed a marginal reduction in sperm counts at the dose of 100 mg/kg/day with no effect on fertility. Upon cessation of treatment, total recovery occurred after 1 spermatogenesis cycle. Abnormalities in sperm were observed in studies in mice designed to evaluate the time course and reversibility of ribavirin-induced testicular degeneration at doses of 15 to 150 mg/kg/day (approximately 0.1 to 0.8 times the maximum recommended daily human dose of ribavirin) administered for 3 to 6 months. Upon cessation of treatment, essentially total recovery from ribavirin-induced testicular toxicity was apparent within 1 or 2 spermatogenic cycles.
Female patients of childbearing potential and male patients with female partners of childbearing potential should not receive COPEGUS unless the patient and his/her partner are using effective contraception (two reliable forms). Based on a multiple dose half-life (t½) of ribavirin of 12 days, effective contraception must be utilized for 6 months post therapy (i.e., 15 half-lives of clearance for ribavirin).
No reproductive toxicology studies have been performed using PEGASYS in combination with COPEGUS. However, peginterferon alfa-2a and ribavirin when administered separately, each has adverse effects on reproduction. It should be assumed that the effects produced by either agent alone would also be caused by the combination of the two agents.
Use In Specific Populations
Pregnancy: Category X [see CONTRAINDICATIONS]. Ribavirin produced significant embryocidal and/or teratogenic effects in all animal species in which adequate studies have been conducted. Malformations of the skull, palate, eye, jaw, limbs, skeleton, and gastrointestinal tract were noted. The incidence and severity of teratogenic effects increased with escalation of the drug dose. Survival of fetuses and offspring was reduced [see CONTRAINDICATIONS and WARNINGS AND PRECAUTIONS].
In conventional embryotoxicity/teratogenicity studies in rats and rabbits, observed no-effect dose levels were well below those for proposed clinical use (0.3 mg/kg/day for both the rat and rabbit; approximately 0.06 times the recommended daily human dose of ribavirin). No maternal toxicity or effects on offspring were observed in a peri/postnatal toxicity study in rats dosed orally at up to 1 mg/kg/day (approximately 0.01 times the maximum recommended daily human dose of ribavirin).
Treatment and Post treatment: Potential Risk to the Fetus
Ribavirin is known to accumulate in intracellular components from where it is cleared very slowly. It is not known whether ribavirin is contained in sperm, and if so, will exert a potential teratogenic effect upon fertilization of the ova. However, because of the potential human teratogenic effects of ribavirin, male patients should be advised to take every precaution to avoid risk of pregnancy for their female partners.
COPEGUS should not be used by pregnant women or by men whose female partners are pregnant. Female patients of childbearing potential and male patients with female partners of childbearing potential should not receive COPEGUS unless the patient and his/her partner are using effective contraception (two reliable forms) during therapy and for 6 months post therapy [see CONTRAINDICATIONS].
Ribavirin Pregnancy Registry
A Ribavirin Pregnancy Registry has been established to monitor maternal-fetal outcomes of pregnancies of female patients and female partners of male patients exposed to ribavirin during treatment and for 6 months following cessation of treatment. Healthcare providers and patients are encouraged to report such cases by calling 1-800-593-2214.
It is not known whether ribavirin is excreted in human milk. Because many drugs are excreted in human milk and to avoid any potential for serious adverse reactions in nursing infants from ribavirin, a decision should be made either to discontinue nursing or therapy with COPEGUS, based on the importance of the therapy to the mother.
Pharmacokinetic evaluations in pediatric patients have not been performed.
Safety and effectiveness of COPEGUS have not been established in patients below the age of 5 years.
Clinical studies of COPEGUS and PEGASYS did not include sufficient numbers of subjects aged 65 or over to determine whether they respond differently from younger subjects. Specific pharmacokinetic evaluations for ribavirin in the elderly have not been performed. The risk of toxic reactions to this drug may be greater in patients with impaired renal function. The dose of COPEGUS should be reduced in patients with creatinine clearance less than or equal to 50 mL/min; and the dose of PEGASYS should be reduced in patients with creatinine clearance less than 30 mL/min [see DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION].
A pharmacokinetic study in 42 subjects demonstrated there is no clinically significant difference in ribavirin pharmacokinetics among Black (n=14), Hispanic (n=13) and Caucasian (n=15) subjects.
Renal function should be evaluated in all patients prior to initiation of COPEGUS by estimating the patient's creatinine clearance.
A clinical trial evaluated treatment with COPEGUS and PEGASYS in 50 CHC subjects with moderate (creatinine clearance 30 – 50 mL/min) or severe (creatinine clearance less than 30 mL/min) renal impairment or end stage renal disease (ESRD) requiring chronic hemodialysis (HD). In 18 subjects with ESRD receiving chronic HD, COPEGUS was administered at a dose of 200 mg daily with no apparent difference in the adverse event profile in comparison to subjects with normal renal function. Dose reductions and temporary interruptions of COPEGUS (due to COPEGUS-related adverse reactions, mainly anemia) were observed in up to one-third ESRD/HD subjects during treatment; and only one-third of these subjects received COPEGUS for 48 weeks. Ribavirin plasma exposures were approximately 20% lower in subjects with ESRD on HD compared to subjects with normal renal function receiving the standard 1000/1200 mg COPEGUS daily dose.
Subjects with moderate (n=17) or severe (n=14) renal impairment did not tolerate 600 mg or 400 mg daily doses of COPEGUS, respectively, due to COPEGUS-related adverse reactions, mainly anemia, and exhibited 20 to 30% higher ribavirin plasma exposures (despite frequent dose modifications) compared to subjects with normal renal function (creatinine clearance greater than 80 mL/min) receiving the standard dose of COPEGUS. Discontinuation rates were higher in subjects with severe renal impairment compared to that observed in subjects with moderate renal impairment or normal renal function. Pharmacokinetic modeling and simulation indicates that a dose of 200 mg daily in patients with severe renal impairment and a dose of 200 mg daily alternating with 400 mg the following day in patients with moderate renal impairment will provide plasma ribavirin exposure similar to patients with normal renal function receiving the approved regimen of COPEGUS. These doses have not been studied in patients [see DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION, and CLINICAL PHARMACOLOGY].
Based on the pharmacokinetic and safety results from this trial, patients with creatinine clearance less than or equal to 50 mL/min should receive a reduced dose of COPEGUS; and patients with creatinine clearance less than 30 mL/min should receive a reduced dose of PEGASYS. The clinical and hematologic status of patients with creatinine clearance less than or equal to 50 mL/min receiving COPEGUS should be carefully monitored. Patients with clinically significant laboratory abnormalities or adverse reactions which are persistently severe or worsening should have therapy withdrawn [see DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION, CLINICAL PHARMACOLOGY, and PEGASYS Package Insert].
The effect of hepatic impairment on the pharmacokinetics of ribavirin following administration of COPEGUS has not been evaluated. The clinical trials of COPEGUS were restricted to patients with Child-Pugh class A disease.
No clinically significant differences in the pharmacokinetics of ribavirin were observed between male and female subjects.
Ribavirin pharmacokinetics, when corrected for weight, are similar in male and female patients.
Organ Transplant Recipients
The safety and efficacy of PEGASYS and COPEGUS treatment have not been established in patients with liver and other transplantations. As with other alpha interferons, liver and renal graft rejections have been reported on PEGASYS, alone or in combination with COPEGUS [see ADVERSE REACTIONS].
Last reviewed on RxList: 3/4/2013
This monograph has been modified to include the generic and brand name in many instances.
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