May 23, 2017
Recommended Topic Related To:


"FDA is recommending health care professionals discontinue prescribing and dispensing prescription combination drug products that contain more than 325 milligrams (mg) of acetaminophen per tablet, capsule or other dosage unit. There are no"...




Mechanism of Action

Cyanide is an extremely toxic poison. In the absence of rapid and adequate treatment, exposure to a high dose of cyanide can result in death within minutes due to the inhibition of cytochrome oxidase resulting in arrest of cellular respiration. Specifically, cyanide binds rapidly with cytochrome a3, a component of the cytochrome c oxidase complex in mitochondria. Inhibition of cytochrome a3 prevents the cell from using oxygen and forces anaerobic metabolism, resulting in lactate production, cellular hypoxia and metabolic acidosis. In massive acute cyanide poisoning, the mechanism of toxicity may involve other enzyme systems as well. Signs and symptoms of acute systemic cyanide poisoning may develop rapidly within minutes, depending on the route and extent of cyanide exposure.

The action of Cyanokit in the treatment of cyanide poisoning is based on its ability to bind cyanide ions. Each hydroxocobalamin molecule can bind one cyanide ion by substituting it for the hydroxo ligand linked to the trivalent cobalt ion, to form cyanocobalamin, which is then excreted in the urine.


Administration of Cyanokit to cyanide-poisoned patients with the attendant formation of cyanocobalamin resulted in increases in blood pressure and variable changes in heart rate upon initiation of hydroxocobalamin infusions.


Following intravenous administration of hydroxocobalamin significant binding to plasma proteins and low molecular weight physiological compounds occurs, forming various cobalamin-(III) complexes by replacing the hydroxo ligand. The low molecular weight cobalamins-(III) formed, including hydroxocobalamin, are termed “free cobalamins-(III)”; the sum of free and protein-bound cobalamins is termed “total cobalamins-(III)”. In order to reflect the exposure to the sum of all derivatives, pharmacokinetics of cobalamins-(III) (i.e. cobalamin-(III) entity without specific ligand) were investigated instead of hydroxocobalamin alone, using the concentration unit μg eq/mL.

Dose-proportional pharmacokinetics were observed following single dose intravenous administration of 2.5 to 10 g of hydroxocobalamin in healthy volunteers. Mean free and total cobalamins-(III) Cmax values of 113 and 579 μg eq/mL, respectively, were determined following a dose of 5 g of hydroxocobalamin. Similarly, mean free and total cobalamins-(III) Cmax values of 197 and 995 μg eq/mL, respectively, were determined following the dose of 10 g of hydroxocobalamin. The predominant mean half-life of free and total cobalamins-(III) was found to be approximately 26 to 31 hours at both the 5 g and 10 g dose level.

The mean total amount of cobalamins-(III) excreted in urine during the collection period of 72 hours was about 60% of a 5 g dose and about 50% of a 10 g dose of hydroxocobalamin. Overall, the total urinary excretion was calculated to be at least 60 to 70% of the administered dose. The majority of the urinary excretion occurred during the first 24 hours, but red-colored urine was observed for up to 35 days following the intravenous infusion.

When normalized for body weight, male and female subjects revealed no major differences in pharmacokinetic parameters of free and total cobalamins-(III) following the administration of 5 and 10 g of hydroxocobalamin.

Animal Pharmacology

Evidence of the effectiveness of hydroxocobalamin for treatment of cyanide poisoning was obtained primarily from studies in animals due to the ethical considerations of performing such controlled studies in humans. While the results of these animal studies cannot be extrapolated to humans with certainty, the extrapolation is supported by the understanding of the pathophysiologic mechanisms of the toxicity of cyanide and the mechanisms of the protective effect of hydroxocobalamin as examined in dogs. In addition, the results of uncontrolled human studies and the animal study establish that hydroxocobalamin is likely to produce clinical benefit in humans.

The effectiveness of hydroxocobalamin was examined in a randomized, placebo-controlled, blinded study in cyanide-poisoned adult dogs assigned to treatment with vehicle (0.9% saline), or 75 or 150 mg/kg hydroxocobalamin. Anesthetized dogs were poisoned by intravenous administration of a lethal dose of potassium cyanide. Dogs then received vehicle or 75 or 150 mg/kg hydroxocobalamin, administered intravenously over 7.5 minutes. The 75 and 150 mg/kg doses are approximately equivalent to 5 and 10 g of hydroxocobalamin (respectively) in humans based on both body weight and the Cmax of hydroxocobalamin (total cobalamins-(III)). Survival at 4 hours and at 14 days was significantly greater in low-and high-dose groups compared with dogs receiving vehicle alone (Table 4). Hydroxocobalamin reduced whole blood cyanide concentrations by approximately 50% by the end of the infusion compared with vehicle.

Table 4 : Survival of Cyanide-Poisoned Dogs

Parameter Treatment
75 mg/kg
150 mg/kg
Survival at Hour 4, n (%) 7 (41) 18 (95) 18 (100)
Survival at Day 14, n (%) 3 (18) 15 (79) 18 (100)

Histopathology revealed brain lesions that were consistent with cyanide-induced hypoxia. The incidence of brain lesions was markedly lower in hydroxocobalamin treated animals compared to vehicle treated groups.

Clinical Studies

Due to ethical considerations, no controlled human efficacy studies have been performed. A controlled animal study demonstrated efficacy in cyanide-poisoned adult dogs [see Animal Pharmacology].

Smoke Inhalation Victims

A prospective, uncontrolled, open-label study was carried out in 69 subjects who had been exposed to smoke inhalation from fires. Subjects had to be over 15 years of age, present with soot in the mouth and expectoration (to indicate significant smoke exposure), and have altered neurological status. The median hydroxocobalamin dose was 5 g with a range from 4 to 15 g.

Fifty of 69 subjects (73%) survived following treatment with hydroxocobalamin. Nineteen subjects treated with hydroxocobalamin did not survive. Fifteen patients treated with hydroxocobalamin were in cardiac arrest initially at the scene; 13 of these subjects died and 2 survived.

Of the 42 subjects with pretreatment cyanide levels considered to be potentially toxic, 28 (67%) survived. Of the 19 subjects whose pretreatment cyanide levels were considered potentially lethal, 11 (58%) survived. Of the 50 subjects who survived, 9 subjects (18%) had neurological sequelae at hospital discharge. These included dementia, confusion, psychomotor retardation, anterograde amnesia, intellectual deterioration moderate cerebellar syndrome, aphasia, and memory impairment.

Two additional retrospective, uncontrolled studies were carried out in subjects who had been exposed to cyanide from fire or smoke inhalation. Subjects were treated with up to 15 g of hydroxocobalamin. Survival in these two studies was 34 of 61 (56%) for one study, and 30 of 72 (42%) for the second.

Cyanide Poisoning by Ingestion or Inhalation

A retrospective, uncontrolled study was carried out in 14 subjects who had been exposed to cyanide from sources other than from fire or smoke (i.e., ingestion or inhalation). Subjects were treated with 5 to 20 g of hydroxocobalamin. Eleven of 12 subjects whose blood cyanide concentration was known had initial blood cyanide levels considered to be above the lethal threshold.

Ten of 14 subjects (71%) survived, following administration of hydroxocobalamin. One of the four subjects who died had presented in cardiac arrest. Of the 10 subjects who survived, only 1 subject had neurological sequelae at hospital discharge. This subject had post-anoxic encephalopathy, with memory impairment, considered to be due to cyanide poisoning.

Cross-Study Findings

Experience with Dosing Greater than 10 g of Hydroxocobalamin

Across all four uncontrolled studies, 10 patients who did not demonstrate a full response to 5 or 10 g-doses of hydroxocobalamin were treated with more than 10 g of hydroxocobalamin. One of these 10 patients survived with unspecified neurological sequelae.

Effects on Blood Pressure

Initiation of hydroxocobalamin infusion as part of the therapeutic interventions generally resulted in increases in blood pressure and variable changes in heart rate (often normalization).

Survival of Patients Presenting in Cardiac Arrest

Of the 245 patients across all four studies, 68 (28%) presented in cardiac arrest. While blood pressure and heart rate may have been restored in many of these 68 patients, only five (7%) survived.

Last reviewed on RxList: 11/29/2016
This monograph has been modified to include the generic and brand name in many instances.

Report Problems to the Food and Drug Administration


You are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit the FDA MedWatch website or call 1-800-FDA-1088.

Women's Health

Find out what women really need.

Related Drugs
Health Resources
Use Pill Finder Find it Now See Interactions

Pill Identifier on RxList

  • quick, easy,
    pill identification

Find a Local Pharmacy

  • including 24 hour, pharmacies

Interaction Checker

  • Check potential drug interactions
Search the Medical Dictionary for Health Definitions & Medical Abbreviations