Benefits and Risks of Deferiprone in Iron Overload in Thalassaemia and Other Conditions
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- Kontoghiorghes, G.J., Neocleous, K. & Kolnagou, A. Drug-Safety (2003) 26: 553. doi:10.2165/00002018-200326080-00003
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Deferiprone is the only orally active iron-chelating drug to be used therapeutically in conditions of transfusional iron overload. It is an orphan drug designed and developed primarily by academic initiatives for the treatment of iron overload in thalassaemia, which is endemic in the Mediterranean, Middle East and South East Asia and is considered an orphan disease in the European Union and North America. Deferiprone has been used in several other iron or other metal imbalance conditions and has prospects of wider clinical applications.
Deferiprone has high affinity for iron and interacts with almost all the iron pools at the molecular, cellular, tissue and organ levels. Doses of 50–120 mg/kg/day appear to be effective in bringing patients to negative iron balance. It increases urinary iron excretion, which mainly depends on the iron load of patients and the dose of the drug. It decreases serum ferritin levels and reduces the liver and heart iron content in the majority of chronically transfused iron loaded patients at doses >80 mg/kg/day. It is metabolised to a glucuronide conjugate and cleared through the urine in the metabolised and a non-metabolised form, usually of a 3 deferiprone: 1 iron complex, which gives the characteristic red colour urine. Peak serum levels of deferiprone are observed within 1 hour of its oral administration and clearance from blood is within 6 hours. There is variation among patients in iron excretion, the metabolism and pharmacokinetics of deferiprone.
Deferiprone has been used in more than 7500 patients aged from 2–85 years in >50 countries, in some cases daily for >14 years. All the adverse effects of deferiprone are considered reversible, controllable and manageable. These include agranulocytosis with frequency of about 0.6%, neutropenia 6%, musculoskeletal and joint pains 15%, gastrointestinal complains 6% and zinc deficiency 1%. Discontinuation of the drug is recommended for patients developing agranulocytosis.
Deferiprone is of similar therapeutic index to subcutaneous deferoxamine but is more effective in iron removal from the heart, which is the target organ of iron toxicity and mortality in iron-loaded thalassaemia patients. Deferiprone is much less expensive to produce than deferoxamine. Combination therapy of deferoxamine and deferiprone has been used in patients not complying with subcutaneous deferoxamine or experiencing toxicity or not excreting sufficient amounts of iron with use of either drug alone. New oral iron-chelating drugs are being developed, but even if successful these are likely to be more expensive than deferiprone and are not likely to become available in the next 5–8 years. About 25% of treated thalassaemia patients in Europe and more than 50% in India are using deferiprone. For most thalassaemia patients worldwide who are not at present receiving any form of chelation therapy the choice is between deferiprone and fatal iron toxicity.