AZATHIOPRINE: Package Insert and Label Information

AZATHIOPRINE- azathioprine tablet
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WARNING MALIGNANCY

Chronic immunosuppression with azathioprine, a purine antimetabolite increases risk of malignancy in humans. Reports of malignancy include post-transplant lymphoma and hepatosplenic T-cell lymphoma (HSTCL) in patients with inflammatory bowel disease. Physicians using this drug should be very familiar with this risk as well as with the mutagenic potential to both men and women and with possible hematologic toxicities. Physicians should inform patients of the risk of malignancy with azathioprine (see WARNINGS).

DESCRIPTION

Azathioprine, an immunosuppressive antimetabolite, is available in tablet form for oral administration. Each scored tablet contains 50 mg, 75 mg or 100 mg azathioprine, USP and the inactive ingredients anhydrous lactose, magnesium stearate, povidone, pregelatinized starch (corn starch), and stearic acid.

Azathioprine is chemically 1 H -Purine, 6-[(1-methyl-4-nitro-1 H -imidazol-5-yl)thio]-. The structural formula of azathioprine is:

1

It is an imidazolyl derivative of 6-mercaptopurine and many of its biological effects are similar to those of the parent compound.

Azathioprine, USP is insoluble in water, but may be dissolved with addition of one molar equivalent of alkali. Azathioprine, USP is stable in solution at neutral or acid pH but hydrolysis to mercaptopurine occurs in excess sodium hydroxide (0.1N), especially on warming. Conversion to mercaptopurine also occurs in the presence of sulfhydryl compounds such as cysteine, glutathione and hydrogen sulfide.

CLINICAL PHARMACOLOGY

Azathioprine is well absorbed following oral administration. Maximum serum radioactivity occurs at 1 to 2 hours after oral 35 S-azathioprine and decays with a half-life of 5 hours. This is not an estimate of the half-life of azathioprine itself, but is the decay rate for all 35 S-containing metabolites of the drug. Because of extensive metabolism, only a fraction of the radioactivity is present as azathioprine. Usual doses produce blood levels of azathioprine, and of mercaptopurine derived from it, which are low (<1 mcg/mL). Blood levels are of little predictive value for therapy since the magnitude and duration of clinical effects correlate with thiopurine nucleotide levels in tissues rather than with plasma drug levels. Azathioprine and mercaptopurine are moderately bound to serum proteins (30%) and are partially dialyzable (see OVERDOSAGE).

Azathioprine is metabolized to 6-mercaptopurine (6-MP). Both compounds are rapidly eliminated from blood and are oxidized or methylated in erythrocytes and liver; no azathioprine or mercaptopurine is detectable in urine after 8 hours. Activation of 6-mercaptopurine occurs via hypoxanthine-guanine phosphoribosyltransferase (HGPRT) and a series of multi-enzymatic processes involving kinases to form 6-thioguanine nucleotides (6-TGNs) as major metabolites. The cytotoxicity of azathioprine is due, in part, to the incorporation of 6-TGN into DNA.

6-MP undergoes two major inactivation routes. One is thiol methylation, which is catalyzed by the enzyme thiopurine S-methyltransferase (TPMT), to form the inactive metabolite methyl-6-MP (6-MeMP). Another inactivation pathway is oxidation, which is catalyzed by xanthine oxidase (XO) to form 6-thiouric acid. The nucleotide diphosphatase (NUDT15) enzyme is involved in conversion of the 6-TGNs to inactive 6-TG monophosphates. TPMT activity correlates inversely with 6-TGN levels in erythrocytes and presumably other hematopoietic tissues, since these cells have negligible xanthine oxidase (involved in the other inactivation pathway) activities.

Genetic polymorphisms influence TPMT and NUDT15 activity. Several published studies indicate that patients with reduced TPMT or NUDT15 activity receiving usual doses of 6-MP or azathioprine, accumulate excessive cellular concentrations of active 6-TGNs, and are at higher risk for severe myelosuppression. Because of the risk of toxicity, patients with TPMT or NUDT15 deficiency require alternative therapy or dose modification (see DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION).

Approximately 0.3% (1:300) of patients of European or African ancestry have two loss-of-function alleles of the TPMT gene and have little or no TPMT activity (homozygous deficient or poor metabolizers), and approximately 10% of patients have one loss-of-function TPMT allele leading to intermediate TPMT activity (heterozygous deficient or intermediate metabolizers). The TPMT*2, TPMT*3A, and TPMT*3C alleles account for about 95% of individuals with reduced levels of TPMT activity. NUDT15 deficiency is detected in <1% of patients of European or African ancestry. Among patients of East Asian ancestry (i.e., Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese), 2% have two loss-of-function alleles of the NUDT15 gene, and approximately 21% have one loss-of-function allele. The p.R139C variant of NUDT15 (present on the *2 and *3 alleles) is the most commonly observed, but other less common loss-of-function NUDT15 alleles have been observed.

Inhibition of xanthine oxidase (XO) may cause increased plasma concentrations of azathioprine or its metabolites leading to toxicity (see PRECAUTIONS: Drug Interactions). Proportions of metabolites are different in individual patients, and this presumably accounts for variable magnitude and duration of drug effects. Renal clearance is probably not important in predicting biological effectiveness or toxicities, although dose reduction is practiced in patients with poor renal function.

Homograft Survival: The use of azathioprine for inhibition of renal homograft rejection is well established, the mechanism(s) for this action are somewhat obscure. The drug suppresses hypersensitivities of the cell-mediated type and causes variable alterations in antibody production. Suppression of T-cell effects, including ablation of T-cell suppression, is dependent on the temporal relationship to antigenic stimulus or engraftment. This agent has little effect on established graft rejections or secondary responses.

Alterations in specific immune responses or immunologic functions in transplant recipients are difficult to relate specifically to immunosuppression by azathioprine. These patients have subnormal responses to vaccines, low numbers of T-cells, and abnormal phagocytosis by peripheral blood cells, but their mitogenic responses, serum immunoglobulins, and secondary antibody responses are usually normal.

Immunoinflammatory Response: Azathioprine suppresses disease manifestations as well as underlying pathology in animal models of autoimmune disease. For example, the severity of adjuvant arthritis is reduced by azathioprine.

The mechanisms whereby azathioprine affects autoimmune diseases are not known. Azathioprine is immunosuppressive, delayed hypersensitivity and cellular cytotoxicity tests being suppressed to a greater degree than are antibody responses. In the rat model of adjuvant arthritis, azathioprine has been shown to inhibit the lymph node hyperplasia, which precedes the onset of the signs of the disease. Both the immunosuppressive and therapeutic effects in animal models are dose-related. Azathioprine is considered a slow-acting drug and effects may persist after the drug has been discontinued.

INDICATIONS AND USAGE

Azathioprine tablets are indicated as an adjunct for the prevention of rejection in renal homotransplantation. It is also indicated for the management of active rheumatoid arthritis to reduce signs and symptoms.

Renal Homotransplantation: Azathioprine tablets are indicated as an adjunct for the prevention of rejection in renal homotransplantation. Experience with over 16,000 transplants shows a 5-year patient survival of 35% to 55%, but this is dependent on donor, match for HLA antigens, anti-donor or anti-B-cell alloantigen antibody, and other variables. The effect of azathioprine on these variables has not been tested in controlled trials.

Rheumatoid Arthritis: Azathioprine tablets are indicated for the treatment of active rheumatoid arthritis (RA) to reduce signs and symptoms. Aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and/or low dose glucocorticoids may be continued during treatment with azathioprine. The combined use of azathioprine with disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) has not been studied for either added benefit or unexpected adverse effects. The use of azathioprine tablets with these agents cannot be recommended.

CONTRAINDICATIONS

Azathioprine tablets should not be given to patients who have shown hypersensitivity to the drug. Azathioprine tablets should not be used for treating rheumatoid arthritis in pregnant women. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis previously treated with alkylating agents (cyclophosphamide, chlorambucil, melphalan, or others) may have a prohibitive risk of malignancy if treated with azathioprine tablets.

WARNINGS

Malignanc y

Patients receiving immunosuppressants, including azathioprine, are at increased risk of developing lymphoma and other malignancies, particularly of the skin. Physicians should inform patients of the risk of malignancy with azathioprine. As usual for patients with increased risk for skin cancer, exposure to sunlight and ultraviolet light should be limited by wearing protective clothing and using a sunscreen with a high protection factor.

Post-transplant

Renal transplant patients are known to have an increased risk of malignancy, predominantly skin cancer and reticulum cell or lymphomatous tumors. The risk of post-transplant lymphomas may be increased in patients who receive aggressive treatment with immunosuppressive drugs, including azathioprine. Therefore, immunosuppressive drug therapy should be maintained at the lowest effective levels.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Information is available on the risk of malignancy with the use of azathioprine in rheumatoid arthritis (see ADVERSE REACTIONS). It has not been possible to define the precise risk of malignancy due to azathioprine. The data suggest the risk may be elevated in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, though lower than for renal transplant patients. However, acute myelogenous leukemia as well as solid tumors have been reported in patients with rheumatoid arthritis who have received azathioprine.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Postmarketing cases of hepatosplenic T-cell lymphoma (HSTCL), a rare type of T-cell lymphoma, have been reported in patients treated with azathioprine. These cases have had a very aggressive disease course and have been fatal. The majority of reported cases have occurred in patients with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis and the majority were in adolescent and young adult males. Some of the patients were treated with azathioprine as monotherapy and some had received concomitant treatment with a TNF╬▒ blocker at or prior to diagnosis. The safety and efficacy of azathioprine for the treatment of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis have not been established.

Cytopenias

Severe leukopenia, thrombocytopenia, anemias including macrocytic anemia, and/or pancytopenia may occur in patients being treated with azathioprine. Severe bone marrow suppression may also occur. Hematologic toxicities are dose-related and may be more severe in renal transplant patients whose homograft is undergoing rejection. It is suggested that patients on azathioprine have complete blood counts, including platelet counts, weekly during the first month, twice monthly for the second and third months of treatment, then monthly or more frequently if dosage alterations or other therapy changes are necessary. Delayed hematologic suppression may occur. Prompt reduction in dosage or temporary withdrawal of the drug may be necessary if there is a rapid fall in or persistently low leukocyte count, or other evidence of bone marrow depression. Leukopenia does not correlate with therapeutic effect; therefore, the dose should not be increased intentionally to lower the white blood cell count.

TPMT or NUDT15 Deficiency

Patients with thiopurine S-methyl transferase (TPMT) or nucleotide diphosphatase (NUDT15) deficiency may be at an increased risk of severe and life-threatening myelotoxicity if receiving conventional doses of azathioprine (see CLINICAL PHARMACOLOGY). Death associated with pancytopenia has been reported in patients with absent TPMT activity receiving azathioprine. In patients with severe myelosuppression, consider evaluation for TPMT and NUDT15 deficiency (see PRECAUTIONS: Laboratory Tests). Consider alternative therapy in patients with homozygous TPMT or NUDT15 deficiency and reduced dosages in patients with heterozygous deficiency (see DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION).

Serious infections

Patients receiving immunosuppressants, including azathioprine, are at increased risk for bacterial, viral, fungal, protozoal, and opportunistic infections, including reactivation of latent infections. These infections may lead to serious, including fatal outcomes.

Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy

Cases of JC virus-associated infection resulting in progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), sometimes fatal, have been reported in patients treated with immunosuppressants, including azathioprine. Risk factors for PML include treatment with immunosuppressant therapies and impairment of immune function. Consider the diagnosis of PML in any patient presenting with new-onset neurological manifestations and consider consultation with a neurologist as clinically indicated. Consider reducing the amount of immunosuppression in patients who develop PML. In transplant patients, consider the risk that the reduced immunosuppression represents to the graft.

Effect on Sperm in Animals

Azathioprine has been reported to cause temporary depression in spermatogenesis and reduction in sperm viability and sperm count in mice at doses 10 times the human therapeutic dose 1 ; a reduced percentage of fertile matings occurred when animals received 5 mg/kg 2.

Pregnancy: Azathioprine can cause fetal harm when administered to a pregnant woman. Azathioprine should not be given during pregnancy without careful weighing of risk versus benefit. Whenever possible, use of azathioprine in pregnant patients should be avoided. This drug should not be used for treating rheumatoid arthritis in pregnant women 3.

Azathioprine is teratogenic in rabbits and mice when given in doses equivalent to the human dose (5 mg/kg daily). Abnormalities included skeletal malformations and visceral anomalies 2.

Limited immunologic and other abnormalities have occurred in a few infants born of renal allograft recipients on azathioprine. In a detailed case report 4 , documented lymphopenia, diminished IgG and IgM levels, CMV infection, and a decreased thymic shadow were noted in an infant born to a mother receiving 150 mg azathioprine and 30 mg prednisone daily throughout pregnancy. At 10 weeks most features were normalized. DeWitte et al reported pancytopenia and severe immune deficiency in a preterm infant whose mother received 125 mg azathioprine and 12.5 mg prednisone daily 5. There have been two published reports of abnormal physical findings. Williamson and Karp described an infant born with preaxial polydactyly whose mother received azathioprine 200 mg daily and prednisone 20 mg every other day during pregnancy 6. Tallent et al described an infant with a large myelomeningocele in the upper lumbar region, bilateral dislocated hips, and bilateral talipes equinovarus. The father was on long-term azathioprine therapy 7.

Benefit versus risk must be weighed carefully before use of azathioprine in patients of reproductive potential. There are no adequate and well-controlled studies in pregnant women. If this drug is used during pregnancy or if the patient becomes pregnant while taking this drug, the patient should be apprised of the potential hazard to the fetus. Women of childbearing age should be advised to avoid becoming pregnant.

PRECAUTIONS

General

A gastrointestinal hypersensitivity reaction characterized by severe nausea and vomiting has been reported. These symptoms may also be accompanied by diarrhea, rash, fever, malaise, myalgias, elevations in liver enzymes, and occasionally, hypotension. Symptoms of gastrointestinal toxicity most often develop within the first several weeks of therapy with azathioprine and are reversible upon discontinuation of the drug. The reaction can recur within hours after re-challenge with a single dose of azathioprine.

Information for Patients: Patients being started on azathioprine should be informed of the necessity of periodic blood counts while they are receiving the drug and should be encouraged to report any unusual bleeding or bruising to their physician. They should be informed of the danger of infection while receiving azathioprine and asked to report signs and symptoms of infection to their physician. Careful dosage instructions should be given to the patient, especially when azathioprine is being administered in the presence of impaired renal function or concomitantly with allopurinol (see Drug Interactions subsection and DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION). Patients should be advised of the potential risks of the use of azathioprine during pregnancy and during the nursing period. The increased risk of malignancy following therapy with azathioprine should be explained to the patient.

Laboratory Tests: Complete Blood Count (CBC) Monitoring: Patients on azathioprine tablets should have complete blood counts, including platelet counts, weekly during the first month, twice monthly for the second and third months of treatment, then monthly or more frequently if dosage alterations or other therapy changes are necessary.

TPMT and NUDT15 Testing: Consider genotyping or phenotyping patients for TPMT deficiency and genotyping for NUDT15 deficiency in patients with severe myelosuppression. TPMT and NUDT15 testing cannot substitute for complete blood count (CBC) monitoring in patients receiving azathioprine. Accurate phenotyping (red blood cell TPMT activity) results are not possible in patients who have received recent blood transfusions (see CLINICAL PHARMACOLOGY, WARNINGS: Cytopenias, ADVERSE REACTIONS and DOSAGE AND ADMINISTRATION sections).

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