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Mechanism of Action

Exjade (deferasirox) is an orally active chelator that is selective for iron (as Fe3+). It is a tridentate ligand that binds iron with high affinity in a 2:1 ratio. Although deferasirox has very low affinity for zinc and copper there are variable decreases in the serum concentration of these trace metals after the administration of deferasirox. The clinical significance of these decreases is uncertain.


Pharmacodynamic effects tested in an iron balance metabolic study showed that deferasirox (10, 20, and 40 mg per kg per day) was able to induce a mean net iron excretion (0.119, 0.329, and 0.445 mg Fe/kg body weight per day, respectively) within the clinically relevant range (0.1-0.5 mg per kg per day). Iron excretion was predominantly fecal.



Exjade is absorbed following oral administration with median times to maximum plasma concentration (tmax) of about 1.5-4 hours. The Cmax and AUC of deferasirox increase approximately linearly with dose after both single administration and under steady-state conditions. Exposure to deferasirox increased by an accumulation factor of 1.3-2.3 after multiple doses. The absolute bioavailability (AUC) of deferasirox tablets for oral suspension is 70% compared to an intravenous dose. The bioavailability (AUC) of deferasirox was variably increased when taken with a meal.


Deferasirox is highly (~99%) protein bound almost exclusively to serum albumin. The percentage of deferasirox confined to the blood cells was 5% in humans. The volume of distribution at steady state (Vss) of deferasirox is 14.37 ± 2.69 L in adults.


Glucuronidation is the main metabolic pathway for deferasirox, with subsequent biliary excretion. Deconjugation of glucuronidates in the intestine and subsequent reabsorption (enterohepatic recycling) is likely to occur. Deferasirox is mainly glucuronidated by UGT1A1 and to a lesser extent UGT1A3. CYP450-catalyzed (oxidative) metabolism of deferasirox appears to be minor in humans (about 8%). Deconjugation of glucuronide metabolites in the intestine and subsequent reabsorption (enterohepatic recycling) was confirmed in a healthy volunteer study in which the administration of cholestyramine 12 g twice daily (strongly binds to deferasirox and its conjugates) 4 and 10 hours after a single dose of deferasirox resulted in a 45% decrease in deferasirox exposure (AUC) by interfering with the enterohepatic recycling of deferasirox.


Deferasirox and metabolites are primarily (84% of the dose) excreted in the feces. Renal excretion of deferasirox and metabolites is minimal (8% of the administered dose). The mean elimination half-life (t1/2) ranged from 8-16 hours following oral administration.

Drug Interactions

Midazolam: In healthy volunteers, the concomitant administration of Exjade and midazolam (a CYP3A4 probe substrate) resulted in a decrease of midazolam peak concentration by 23% and exposure by 17%. In the clinical setting, this effect may be more pronounced. The study was not adequately designed to conclusively assess the potential induction of CYP3A4 by deferasirox [see DRUG INTERACTIONS].

Repaglinide: In a healthy volunteer study, the concomitant administration of Exjade (30 mg per kg/day for 4 days) and the CYP2C8 probe substrate repaglinide (single dose of 0.5 mg) resulted in an increase in repaglinide systemic exposure (AUC) to 2.3-fold of control and an increase in Cmax of 62% [see DRUG INTERACTIONS].

Theophylline: In a healthy volunteer study, the concomitant administration of Exjade (repeated dose of 30 mg per kg/day) and the CYP1A2 substrate theophylline (single dose of 120 mg) resulted in an approximate doubling of the theophylline AUC and elimination half-life. The single dose Cmax was not affected, but an increase in theophylline Cmax is expected to occur with chronic dosing [see DRUG INTERACTIONS].

Rifampicin: In a healthy volunteer study, the concomitant administration of Exjade (single dose of 30 mg per kg) and the potent UDP-glucuronosyltransferase (UGT) inducer rifampicin (600 mg/day for 9 days) resulted in a decrease of deferasirox systemic exposure (AUC) by 44% [see DRUG INTERACTIONS].

Cholestyramine: The concomitant use of Exjade with bile acid sequestrants may result in a decrease in Exjade efficacy. In healthy volunteers, the administration of cholestyramine after a single dose of deferasirox resulted in a 45% decrease in deferasirox exposure (AUC) [see DRUG INTERACTIONS].

In vitro studies
  • Cytochrome P450 Enzymes: Deferasirox inhibits human CYP3A4, CYP2C8, CYP1A2, CYP2A6, CYP2D6, and CYP2C19 in vitro.
  • Transporter Systems: The addition of cyclosporin A (PgP/MRP1/MRP2 inhibitor) or verapamil (PgP/MRP1 inhibitor) did not influence ICL670 permeability in vitro.

Pharmacokinetics in Specific Populations

Pediatric: Following oral administration of single or multiple doses, systemic exposure of adolescents and children to deferasirox was less than in adult patients. In children < 6 years of age, systemic exposure was about 50% lower than in adults.

Geriatric: The pharmacokinetics of deferasirox have not been studied in elderly patients (65 years of age or older).

Gender: Females have a moderately lower apparent clearance (by 17.5%) for deferasirox compared to males.

Renal Impairment: Compared to patients with MDS and ClCr > 60 mL/min, patients with MDS and ClCr 40 to 60 mL/min (n=34) had approximately 50% higher mean deferasirox trough plasma concentrations.

QT Prolongation

The effect of 20 and 40 mg per kg per day of deferasirox on the QT interval was evaluated in a single-dose, double-blind, randomized, placebo-and active-controlled (moxifloxacin 400 mg), parallel group study in 182 healthy male and female volunteers age 18-65 years. No evidence of prolongation of the QTc interval was observed in this study.

Clinical Studies

Transfusional Iron Overload

The primary efficacy study, Study 1, was a multicenter, open-label, randomized, active-comparator control study to compare Exjade (deferasirox) and deferoxamine in patients with beta-thalassemia and transfusional hemosiderosis. Patients ≥ 2 years of age were randomized in a 1:1 ratio to receive either oral Exjade at starting doses of 5, 10, 20, or 30 mg per kg once daily or subcutaneous Desferal (deferoxamine) at starting doses of 20 to 60 mg per kg for at least 5 days per week based on LIC at baseline (2-3, > 3-7, > 7-14, and > 14 mg Fe/g dry weight). Patients randomized to deferoxamine who had LIC values < 7 mg Fe/g dry weight were permitted to continue on their prior deferoxamine dose, even though the dose may have been higher than specified in the protocol.

Patients were to have a liver biopsy at baseline and end of study (after 12 months) for LIC. The primary efficacy endpoint was defined as a reduction in LIC of ≥ 3 mg Fe/g dry weight for baseline values ≥ 10 mg Fe/g dry weight, reduction of baseline values between 7 and < 10 to < 7 mg Fe/g dry weight, or maintenance or reduction for baseline values < 7 mg Fe/g dry weight.

A total of 586 patients were randomized and treated, 296 with Exjade and 290 with deferoxamine. The mean age was 17.1 years (range, 2-53 years); 52% were females and 88% were Caucasian. The primary efficacy population consisted of 553 patients (Exjade n=276; deferoxamine n=277) who had LIC evaluated at baseline and 12 months or discontinued due to an adverse event. The percentage of patients achieving the primary endpoint was 52.9% for Exjade and 66.4% for deferoxamine. The relative efficacy of Exjade to deferoxamine cannot be determined from this study.

In patients who had an LIC at baseline and at end of study, the mean change in LIC was -2.4 mg Fe/g dry weight in patients treated with Exjade and -2.9 mg Fe/g dry weight in patients treated with deferoxamine.

Reduction of LIC and serum ferritin was observed with Exjade doses of 20 to 30 mg per kg per day. Exjade doses below 20 mg per kg per day failed to provide consistent lowering of LIC and serum ferritin levels (Figure 1). Therefore, a starting dose of 20 mg per kg per day is recommended [see DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION].

Figure 1: Changes in Liver Iron Concentration and Serum Ferritin Following EXJADE (5-30 mg per kg per day) in Study 1

Changes in Liver Iron Concentration - Illustration

Study 2 was an open-label, noncomparative trial of efficacy and safety of Exjade given for 1 year to patients with chronic anemias and transfusional hemosiderosis. Similar to Study 1, patients received 5, 10, 20, or 30 mg per kg per day of Exjade based on baseline LIC.

A total of 184 patients were treated in this study: 85 patients with beta-thalassemia and 99 patients with other congenital or acquired anemias (myelodysplastic syndromes, n=47; Diamond-Blackfan syndrome, n=30; other, n=22). 19% of patients were < 16 years of age and 16% were ≥ 65 years of age. There was a reduction in the absolute LIC from baseline to end of study (-4.2 mg Fe/g dry weight).

Study 3 was a multicenter, open-label, randomized trial of the safety and efficacy of Exjade relative to deferoxamine given for 1 year in patients with sickle cell disease and transfusional hemosiderosis. Patients were randomized to Exjade at doses of 5, 10, 20, or 30 mg per kg per day or subcutaneous deferoxamine at doses of 20-60 mg per kg per day for 5 days per week according to baseline LIC.

A total of 195 patients were treated in this study: 132 with Exjade and 63 with deferoxamine. 44% of patients were < 16 years of age and 91% were black. At end of study, the mean change in LIC (as measured by magnetic susceptometry by a superconducting quantum interference device) in the per protocol-1 (PP-1) population, which consisted of patients who had at least 1 post-baseline LIC assessment, was -1.3 mg Fe/g dry weight for patients receiving Exjade (n=113) and -0.7 mg Fe/g dry weight for patients receiving deferoxamine (n=54).

One-hundred five (105) patients with thalassemia major and cardiac iron overload were enrolled in a study assessing the change in cardiac MRI T2* value (measured in milliseconds, ms) before and after treatment with deferasirox. Cardiac T2* values at baseline ranged from 5 to < 20 ms. The geometric mean of cardiac T2* in the 68 patients who completed 3 years of Exjade therapy increased from 11.98 ms at baseline to 17.12 ms at 3 years. Cardiac T2* values improved in patients with severe cardiac iron overload ( < 10 ms) and in those with mild to moderate cardiac iron overload ( ≥ 10 to < 20 ms). The clinical significance of these observations is unknown.

Six hundred twenty-seven patients with MDS were enrolled across 5 uncontrolled trials. Two hundred thirty-nine of the 627 patients were enrolled in trials that limited enrollment to patients with IPSS Low or Intermediate 1 risk MDS and the remaining 388 patients were enrolled in trials that did not specify MDS risk stratification but required a life expectancy of greater than 1 year. Planned duration of treatment in these trials ranged from 1 year (365 patients) to 5 years (47 patients). These trials evaluated the effects of Exjade therapy on parameters of iron overload, including LIC (125 patients) and serum ferritin (627 patients). Percent of patients completing planned duration of treatment was 51% in the largest 1 year study, 52% in the 3-year study and 22% in the 5 year study. The major causes for treatment discontinuation were withdrawal of consent, adverse reaction, and death. Over 1 year of follow-up across these pooled studies, mean change in serum ferritin was -332.8 (±2615.59) mcg/L (n=593) and mean change in LIC was -5.9 (±8.32) mg Fe/g dw (n=68). Results of these pooled studies in 627 patients with MDS suggest a progressive decrease in serum ferritin and LIC beyond 1 year in those patients who are able to continue Exjade. No controlled trials have been performed to demonstrate that these reductions improve morbidity or mortality in patients with MDS. Adverse reactions with Exjade therapy occur more frequently in older patients [see Use in Specific Populations]. In elderly patients, including those with MDS, individualize the decision to remove accumulated iron based on clinical circumstances and the anticipated clinical benefit and risks of Exjade therapy.

Non-Transfusion Dependent Thalassemia

Study 4 was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of treatment with Exjade for patients 10 years of age or older with NTDT syndromes and iron overload. Eligible patients had an LIC of at least 5 mg Fe/g dw measured by R2 MRI and a serum ferritin exceeding 300 mcg/L at screening (2 consecutive values at least 14 days apart from each other). A total of 166 patients were randomized, 55 to the Exjade 5 mg/kg/day dose group, 55 to the Exjade 10 mg/kg/day dose group, and 56 to placebo (28 to each matching placebo group). Doses could be increased after 6 months if the LIC exceeded 7 mg Fe/g dw and the LIC reduction from baseline was less than 15%. The patients enrolled included 89 males and 77 females. The underlying disease was beta-thalassemia intermedia in 95 (57%) patients, HbE beta-thalassemia in 49 (30%) patients, and alpha-thalassemia in 22 (13%) patients. There were 17 pediatric patients in the study. Caucasians comprised 57% of the study population and Asians comprised 42%. The median baseline LIC (range) for all patients was 12.1 (2.6-49.1) mg Fe/g dw. Follow-up was for 1 year. The primary efficacy endpoint of change in LIC from baseline to Week 52 was statistically significant in favor of both Exjade dose groups compared with placebo (p ≤ 0.001) (Table 5). Furthermore, a statistically significant dose effect of Exjade was observed in favor of the 10 mg/kg/day dose group (10 versus 5 mg/kg/day, p=0.009). In a descriptive analysis, the target LIC (less than 5 mg Fe/g dw) was reached by 15 (27%) of 55 patients in the 10 mg/kg/day arm, 8 (15%) of 55 patients in the 5 mg/kg/day arm and 2 (4%) of 56 patients in the combined placebo groups.

Table 5: Absolute Change in LIC at Week 52 in NTDT Patients

  Starting Dose1
Placebo EXJADE 5 mg/kg/day EXJADE 10 mg/kg/day EXJADE 20 mg/kg/day
Study 42
Number of Patients n=54 n=51 n=54 -
Mean LIC at Baseline (mg Fe/g dw) 16.1 13.4 14.4 -
Mean Change (mg Fe/g dw) 0.4 -2 -3.8 -
(95% Confidence Interval) (-0.6, +1.3) (-2.9, -1.0) (-4.8, -2.9) -
Study 5
Number of Patients - n=8 n=77 n=43
Mean LIC at Baseline (mg Fe/gdw) - 5.6 8.8 23.5
Mean Change (mg Fe/g dw) - -1.5 -2.8 -9.1
(95% Confidence Interval) - (-3.7, +0.7) (-3.4, -2.2) (-11.0, -7.3)
1Randomized dose in Study 4 or assigned starting dose in Study 5
2Least square mean change for Study 4

Study 5 was an open-label trial of Exjade for the treatment of patients previously enrolled on Study 4, including cross-over to active treatment for those previously treated with placebo. The starting dose of Exjade in Study 5 was assigned based on the patient's LIC at completion of Study 4, being 20 mg/kg/day for an LIC exceeding 15 mg Fe/g dw, 10 mg/kg/day for LIC 3-15 mg Fe/g dw, and observation if the LIC was less than 3 mg Fe/g dw. Patients could continue on 5 mg/kg/day if they had previously exhibited at least a 30% reduction in LIC. Doses could be increased to a maximum of 20 mg/kg/day after 6 months if the LIC was more than 7 mg Fe/g dw and the LIC reduction from baseline was less than 15%. The primary efficacy endpoint in Study 5 was the proportion of patients achieving an LIC less than 5 mg Fe/g dw. A total of 133 patients were enrolled. Twenty patients began Study 5 with an LIC less than 5 mg Fe/g dw. Of the 113 patients with a baseline LIC of at least 5 mg Fe/g dw in Study 5, the target LIC (less than 5 mg Fe/g dw) was reached by 39 (35%). The responders included 4 (10%) of 39 patients treated at 20 mg/kg/day for a baseline LIC exceeding 15 mg Fe/g dw, and 31 (51%) of 61 patients treated at 10 mg/kg/day for a baseline LIC between 5 and 15 mg Fe/g dw. The absolute change in LIC at Week 52 by starting dose is shown in Table 5 above.

Last reviewed on RxList: 10/31/2013
This monograph has been modified to include the generic and brand name in many instances.

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