A Benefit-Risk Assessment of Benzbromarone in the Treatment of Gout
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Benzbromarone, a potent uricosuric drug, was introduced in the 1970s and was viewed as having few associated serious adverse reactions. It was registered in about 20 countries throughout Asia, South America and Europe. In 2003, the drug was withdrawn by Sanofi-Synthélabo, after reports of serious hepatotoxicity, although it is still marketed in several countries by other drug companies. The withdrawal has greatly limited its availability around the world, and increased difficulty in accessing it in other countries where it has never been available.
The overall aim of this paper is to determine if the withdrawal of benzbromarone was in the best interests of gouty patients and to present a benefit-risk assessment of benzbromarone. To determine this, we examined (i) the clinical benefits associated with benzbromarone treatment and compared them with the success of alternative therapies such as allopurinol and probenecid, particularly in patients with renal impairment; (ii) the attribution of the reported cases of hepatotoxicity to treatment with benzbromarone; (iii) the incidence of hepatotoxicity possibly due to benzbromarone; (iv) adverse reactions to allopurinol and probenecid. From these analyses, we present recommendations on the use of benzbromarone.
Large reductions in plasma urate concentrations in patients with hyperuricaemia are achieved with benzbromarone and most patients normalize their plasma urate. The half-life of benzbromarone is generally short (about 3 hours); however, a uricosuric metabolite, 6-hydroxybenzbromarone, has a much longer half-life (up to 30 hours) and is the major species responsible for the uricosuric activity of benzbromarone, although its metabolism by cytochrome P450 (CYP) 2C9 in the liver may vary between patients as a result of polymorphisms in this enzyme. It is effective in patients with moderate renal impairment. Standard dosages of benzbromarone (100 mg/day) tend to produce greater hypouricaemic effects than standard doses of allopourinol (300 mg/day) or probenecid (1000 mg/ day).
Adverse effects associated with benzbromarone are relatively infrequent, but potentially severe. Four cases of benzbromarone-induced hepatotoxicity were identified from the literature. Eleven cases have been reported by Sanofi-Synthélabo, but details are not available in the public domain. Only one of the four published cases demonstrated a clear relationship between the drug and liver injury as demonstrated by rechallenge. The other three cases lacked incontrovertible evidence to support a diagnosis of benzbromarone-induced hepatotoxicity. If all the reported cases are assumed to be due to benzbromarone, the estimated risk of hepatotoxicity in Europe was approximately 1 in 17 000 patients but may be higher in Japan.
Benzbromarone is also an inhibitor of CYP2C9 and so may be involved in drug interactions with drugs dependent on this enzyme for clearance, such as warfarin. Alternative drugs to benzbromarone have significant adverse reactions. Allopurinol is associated with rare life-threatening hypersensitivity syndromes; the risk of these reactions is approximately 1 in 56 000. Rash occurs in approximately 2% of patients taking allopurinol and usually leads to cessation of prescription of the drug. Probenecid has also been associated with life-threatening reactions in a very small number of case reports, but it frequently interacts with many renally excreted drugs. Febuxostat is a new xanthine oxidoreductase inhibitor, which is still in clinical trials, but abnormal liver function is the most commonly reported adverse reaction.
Even assuming a causal relationship between benzbromarone and hepatotoxicity in the identified cases, benefit-risk assessment based on total exposure to the drug does not support the decision by the drug company to withdraw benzbromarone from the market given the paucity of alternative options. It is likely that the risks of hepatotoxicity could be ameliorated by employing a graded dosage increase, together with regular monitoring of liver function. Determination of CYP2C9 status and consideration of potential interactions through inhibition of this enzyme should be considered. The case for wider and easier availability of benzbromarone for treating selected cases of gout is compelling, particularly for patients in whom allopurinol produces insufficient response or toxicity.
We conclude that the withdrawal of benzbromarone was not in the best interest of patients with gout.