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RETACRIT™ Warnings and Precautions (epoetin alfa-epbx)


5.1 Increased Mortality, Myocardial Infarction, Stroke, and Thromboembolism

  • In controlled clinical trials of patients with CKD comparing higher hemoglobin targets (13 - 14 g/dL) to lower targets (9 – 11.3 g/dL), epoetin alfa and other ESAs increased the risk of death, myocardial infarction, stroke, congestive heart failure, thrombosis of hemodialysis vascular access, and other thromboembolic events in the higher target groups.
  • Using ESAs to target a hemoglobin level of greater than 11 g/dL increases the risk of serious adverse cardiovascular reactions and has not been shown to provide additional benefit [see Clinical Studies (14.1)]. Use caution in patients with coexistent cardiovascular disease and stroke [see Dosage and Administration (2.2)]. Patients with CKD and an insufficient hemoglobin response to ESA therapy may be at even greater risk for cardiovascular reactions and mortality than other patients. A rate of hemoglobin rise of greater than 1 g/dL over 2 weeks may contribute to these risks.
  • In controlled clinical trials of patients with cancer, epoetin alfa and other ESAs increased the risks for death and serious adverse cardiovascular reactions. These adverse reactions included myocardial infarction and stroke.
  • In controlled clinical trials, ESAs increased the risk of death in patients undergoing coronary artery bypass graft surgery (CABG) and the risk of deep venous thrombosis (DVT) in patients undergoing orthopedic procedures.

The design and overall results of the 3 large trials comparing higher and lower hemoglobin targets are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Randomized Controlled Trials Showing Adverse Cardiovascular Outcomes in Patients with CKD
Normal Hematocrit Study (NHS)
(N = 1265)
(N = 1432)
(N = 4038)
Time Period of Trial1993 to 19962003 to 20062004 to 2009
PopulationCKD patients on hemodialysis with coexisting CHF or CAD, hematocrit 30 ± 3% on epoetin alfaCKD patients not on dialysis with hemoglobin < 11 g/dL not previously administered epoetin alfaCKD patients not on dialysis with type II diabetes, hemoglobin ≤ 11 g/dL
Hemoglobin Target; Higher vs. Lower (g/dL)14.0 vs. 10.013.5 vs. 11.313.0 vs. ≥ 9.0
Median (Q1, Q3) Achieved Hemoglobin level (g/dL)12.6 (11.6, 13.3) vs. 10.3 (10.0, 10.7)13.0 (12.2, 13.4) vs. 11.4 (11.1, 11.6)12.5 (12.0, 12.8) vs. 10.6 (9.9, 11.3)
Primary EndpointAll-cause mortality or non-fatal MIAll-cause mortality, MI, hospitalization for CHF, or strokeAll-cause mortality, MI, myocardial ischemia, heart failure, and stroke
Hazard Ratio or Relative Risk (95% CI)1.28 (1.06 – 1.56)1.34 (1.03 – 1.74)1.05 (0.94 – 1.17)
Adverse Outcome for Higher Target GroupAll-cause mortalityAll-cause mortalityStroke
Hazard Ratio or Relative Risk (95% CI)1.27 (1.04 – 1.54)1.48 (0.97 – 2.27)1.92 (1.38 – 2.68)

Patients with Chronic Kidney Disease

Normal Hematocrit Study (NHS): A prospective, randomized, open-label study of 1265 patients with chronic kidney disease on dialysis with documented evidence of congestive heart failure or ischemic heart disease was designed to test the hypothesis that a higher target hematocrit (Hct) would result in improved outcomes compared with a lower target Hct. In this study, patients were randomized to epoetin alfa treatment targeted to a maintenance hemoglobin of either 14 ± 1 g/dL or 10 ± 1 g/dL. The trial was terminated early with adverse safety findings of higher mortality in the high hematocrit target group. Higher mortality (35% vs. 29%) was observed for the patients randomized to a target hemoglobin of 14 g/dL than for the patients randomized to a target hemoglobin of 10 g/dL. For all-cause mortality, the HR = 1.27; 95% CI (1.04, 1.54); p = 0.018. The incidence of nonfatal myocardial infarction, vascular access thrombosis, and other thrombotic events was also higher in the group randomized to a target hemoglobin of 14 g/dL.

CHOIR: A randomized, prospective trial, 1432 patients with anemia due to CKD who were not undergoing dialysis and who had not previously received epoetin alfa therapy were randomized to epoetin alfa treatment targeting a maintenance hemoglobin concentration of either 13.5 g/dL or 11.3 g/dL. The trial was terminated early with adverse safety findings. A major cardiovascular event (death, myocardial infarction, stroke, or hospitalization for congestive heart failure) occurred in 125 of the 715 patients (18%) in the higher hemoglobin group compared to 97 of the 717 patients (14%) in the lower hemoglobin group [hazard ratio (HR) 1.34, 95% CI: 1.03, 1.74; p=0.03].

TREAT: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, prospective trial of 4038 patients with: CKD not on dialysis (eGFR of 20 – 60 mL/min), anemia (hemoglobin levels ≤ 11 g/dL), and type 2 diabetes mellitus, patients were randomized to receive either darbepoetin alfa treatment or a matching placebo. Placebo group patients also received darbepoetin alfa when their hemoglobin levels were below 9 g/dL. The trial objectives were to demonstrate the benefit of darbepoetin alfa treatment of the anemia to a target hemoglobin level of 13 g/dL, when compared to a "placebo" group, by reducing the occurrence of either of two primary endpoints: (1) a composite cardiovascular endpoint of all-cause mortality or a specified cardiovascular event (myocardial ischemia, CHF, MI, and CVA) or (2) a composite renal endpoint of all-cause mortality or progression to end stage renal disease. The overall risks for each of the two primary endpoints (the cardiovascular composite and the renal composite) were not reduced with darbepoetin alfa treatment (see Table 1), but the risk of stroke was increased nearly two-fold in the darbepoetin alfa-treated group versus the placebo group: annualized stroke rate 2.1% vs. 1.1%, respectively, HR 1.92; 95% CI: 1.38, 2.68; p < 0.001. The relative risk of stroke was particularly high in patients with a prior stroke: annualized stroke rate 5.2% in the darbepoetin alfa-treated group and 1.9% in the placebo group, HR 3.07; 95% CI: 1.44, 6.54. Also, among darbepoetin alfa-treated subjects with a past history of cancer, there were more deaths due to all causes and more deaths adjudicated as due to cancer, in comparison with the control group.

Patients with Cancer

An increased incidence of thromboembolic reactions, some serious and life-threatening, occurred in patients with cancer treated with ESAs.

In a randomized, placebo-controlled study (Study 2 in Table 2 [see Warnings and Precautions (5.2)]) of 939 women with metastatic breast cancer receiving chemotherapy, patients received either weekly epoetin alfa or placebo for up to a year. This study was designed to show that survival was superior when epoetin alfa was administered to prevent anemia (maintain hemoglobin levels between 12 and 14 g/dL or hematocrit between 36% and 42%). This study was terminated prematurely when interim results demonstrated a higher mortality at 4 months (8.7% vs. 3.4%) and a higher rate of fatal thrombotic reactions (1.1% vs. 0.2%) in the first 4 months of the study among patients treated with epoetin alfa. Based on Kaplan-Meier estimates, at the time of study termination, the 12-month survival was lower in the epoetin alfa group than in the placebo group (70% vs. 76%; HR 1.37, 95% CI: 1.07, 1.75; p = 0.012).

Patients Having Surgery

An increased incidence of deep venous thrombosis (DVT) in patients receiving epoetin alfa undergoing surgical orthopedic procedures was demonstrated [see Adverse Reactions (6.1)]. In a randomized, controlled study, 680 adult patients, not receiving prophylactic anticoagulation and undergoing spinal surgery, were randomized to 4 doses of 600 Units/kg epoetin alfa (7, 14, and 21 days before surgery, and the day of surgery) and standard of care (SOC) treatment (n = 340) or to SOC treatment alone (n = 340). A higher incidence of DVTs, determined by either color flow duplex imaging or by clinical symptoms, was observed in the epoetin alfa group (16 [4.7%] patients) compared with the SOC group (7 [2.1%] patients). In addition to the 23 patients with DVTs included in the primary analysis, 19 [2.8%] patients (n = 680) experienced 1 other thrombovascular event (TVE) each (12 [3.5%] in the epoetin alfa group and 7 [2.1%] in the SOC group). Deep venous thrombosis prophylaxis is strongly recommended when ESAs are used for the reduction of allogeneic RBC transfusions in surgical patients [see Dosage and Administration (2.5)].

Increased mortality was observed in a randomized, placebo-controlled study of epoetin alfa in adult patients who were undergoing CABG surgery (7 deaths in 126 patients randomized to epoetin alfa versus no deaths among 56 patients receiving placebo). Four of these deaths occurred during the period of study drug administration and all 4 deaths were associated with thrombotic events.

5.2 Increased Mortality and/or Increased Risk of Tumor Progression or Recurrence in Patients with Cancer

ESAs resulted in decreased locoregional control/progression-free survival (PFS) and/or overall survival (OS) (see Table 2).

Adverse effects on PFS and/or OS were observed in studies of patients receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer (Studies 1, 2, and 4), lymphoid malignancy (Study 3), and cervical cancer (Study 5); in patients with advanced head and neck cancer receiving radiation therapy (Studies 6 and 7); and in patients with non-small cell lung cancer or various malignancies who were not receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy (Studies 8 and 9).

Table 2. Randomized, Controlled Studies with Decreased Survival and/or Decreased Locoregional Control
Study/Tumor/(n)Hemoglobin TargetAchieved Hemoglobin (Median; Q1, Q3*)Primary Efficacy OutcomeAdverse Outcome for ESA-containing Arm
Q1 = 25th percentile;
Q3 = 75th percentile
This study did not include a defined hemoglobin target. Doses were titrated to achieve and maintain the lowest hemoglobin level sufficient to avoid transfusion and not to exceed 12 g/dL.
Study 1
Metastatic breast cancer
(n = 2098)
≤12 g/dL11.6 g/dL;
10.7, 12.1 g/dL
Progression-free survival (PFS)Decreased progression-free and overall survival
Study 2
Metastatic breast cancer
(n = 939)
12–14 g/dL12.9 g/dL;
12.2, 13.3 g/dL
12-month overall survivalDecreased 12-month survival
Study 3
Lymphoid malignancy
(n = 344)
13–15 g/dL (M)
13–14 g/dL (F)
11 g/dL;
9.8, 12.1 g/dL
Proportion of patients achieving a hemoglobin responseDecreased overall survival
Study 4
Early breast cancer
(n = 733)
12.5–13 g/dL13.1 g/dL;
12.5, 13.7 g/dL
Relapse-free and overall survivalDecreased 3-year relapse-free and overall survival
Study 5
Cervical cancer
(n = 114)
12–14 g/dL12.7 g/dL;
12.1, 13.3 g/dL
Progression-free and overall survival and locoregional controlDecreased 3-year progression-free and overall survival and locoregional control
Radiotherapy Alone
Study 6
Head and neck cancer
(n = 351)
≥ 15 g/dL (M)
≥ 14 g/dL (F)
Not availableLocoregional progression-free survivalDecreased 5-year locoregional progression-free and overall survival
Study 7
Head and neck cancer
(n = 522)
14–15.5 g/dLNot availableLocoregional disease controlDecreased locoregional disease control
No Chemotherapy or Radiotherapy
Study 8
Non-small cell lung cancer
(n = 70)
12–14 g/dLNot availableQuality of lifeDecreased overall survival
Study 9
Non-myeloid malignancy
(n = 989)
12–13 g/dL10.6 g/dL;
9.4, 11.8 g/dL
RBC transfusionsDecreased overall survival

Decreased Overall Survival

Study 2 was described in the previous section [see Warnings and Precautions (5.1)]. Mortality at 4 months (8.7% vs. 3.4%) was significantly higher in the epoetin alfa arm. The most common investigator-attributed cause of death within the first 4 months was disease progression; 28 of 41 deaths in the epoetin alfa arm and 13 of 16 deaths in the placebo arm were attributed to disease progression. Investigator-assessed time to tumor progression was not different between the 2 groups. Survival at 12 months was significantly lower in the epoetin alfa arm (70% vs. 76%; HR 1.37, 95% CI: 1.07, 1.75; p = 0.012).

Study 3 was a randomized, double-blind study (darbepoetin alfa vs. placebo) conducted in 344 anemic patients with lymphoid malignancy receiving chemotherapy. With a median follow-up of 29 months, overall mortality rates were significantly higher among patients randomized to darbepoetin alfa as compared to placebo (HR 1.36, 95% CI: 1.02, 1.82).

Study 8 was a multicenter, randomized, double-blind study (epoetin alfa vs. placebo) in which patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer receiving only palliative radiotherapy or no active therapy were treated with epoetin alfa to achieve and maintain hemoglobin levels between 12 and 14 g/dL. Following an interim analysis of 70 patients (planned accrual 300 patients), a significant difference in survival in favor of the patients in the placebo arm of the study was observed (median survival 63 vs. 129 days; HR 1.84; p = 0.04).

Study 9 was a randomized, double-blind study (darbepoetin alfa vs. placebo) in 989 anemic patients with active malignant disease, neither receiving nor planning to receive chemotherapy or radiation therapy. There was no evidence of a statistically significant reduction in proportion of patients receiving RBC transfusions. The median survival was shorter in the darbepoetin alfa treatment group than in the placebo group (8 months vs. 10.8 months; HR 1.30, 95% CI: 1.07, 1.57).

Decreased Progression-free Survival and Overall Survival

Study 1 was a randomized, open-label, multicenter study in 2,098 anemic women with metastatic breast cancer, who received first line or second line chemotherapy. This was a non-inferiority study designed to rule out a 15% risk increase in tumor progression or death of epoetin alfa plus standard of care (SOC) as compared with SOC alone. At the time of clinical data cutoff, the median progression free survival (PFS) per investigator assessment of disease progression was 7.4 months in each arm (HR 1.09, 95% CI: 0.99, 1.20), indicating the study objective was not met. There were more deaths from disease progression in the epoetin alfa plus SOC arm (59% vs. 56%) and more thrombotic vascular events in the epoetin alfa plus SOC arm (3% vs. 1%). At the final analysis, 1653 deaths were reported (79.8% subjects in the epoetin alfa plus SOC group and 77.8% subjects in the SOC group). Median overall survival in the epoetin alfa plus SOC group was 17.8 months compared with 18.0 months in the SOC alone group (HR 1.07, 95% CI: 0.97, 1.18).

Study 4 was a randomized, open-label, controlled, factorial design study in which darbepoetin alfa was administered to prevent anemia in 733 women receiving neo-adjuvant breast cancer treatment. A final analysis was performed after a median follow-up of approximately 3 years. The 3-year survival rate was lower (86% vs. 90%; HR 1.42, 95% CI: 0.93, 2.18) and the 3-year relapse-free survival rate was lower (72% vs. 78%; HR 1.33, 95% CI: 0.99, 1.79) in the darbepoetin alfa-treated arm compared to the control arm.

Study 5 was a randomized, open-label, controlled study that enrolled 114 of a planned 460 cervical cancer patients receiving chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Patients were randomized to receive epoetin alfa to maintain hemoglobin between 12 and 14 g/dL or to RBC transfusion support as needed. The study was terminated prematurely due to an increase in thromboembolic adverse reactions in epoetin alfa-treated patients compared to control (19% vs. 9%). Both local recurrence (21% vs. 20%) and distant recurrence (12% vs. 7%) were more frequent in epoetin alfa-treated patients compared to control. Progression-free survival at 3 years was lower in the epoetin alfa-treated group compared to control (59% vs. 62%; HR 1.06, 95% CI: 0.58, 1.91). Overall survival at 3 years was lower in the epoetin alfa-treated group compared to control (61% vs. 71%; HR 1.28, 95% CI: 0.68, 2.42).

Study 6 was a randomized, placebo-controlled study in 351 head and neck cancer patients where epoetin beta or placebo was administered to achieve target hemoglobins ≥ 14 and ≥ 15 g/dL for women and men, respectively. Locoregional progression-free survival was significantly shorter in patients receiving epoetin beta (HR 1.62, 95% CI: 1.22, 2.14; p = 0.0008) with medians of 406 days and 745 days in the epoetin beta and placebo arms, respectively. Overall survival was significantly shorter in patients receiving epoetin beta (HR 1.39, 95% CI: 1.05, 1.84; p = 0.02).

Decreased Locoregional Control

Study 7 was a randomized, open-label, controlled study conducted in 522 patients with primary squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck receiving radiation therapy alone (no chemotherapy) who were randomized to receive darbepoetin alfa to maintain hemoglobin levels of 14 to 15.5 g/dL or no darbepoetin alfa. An interim analysis performed on 484 patients demonstrated that locoregional control at 5 years was significantly shorter in patients receiving darbepoetin alfa (RR 1.44, 95% CI: 1.06, 1.96; p = 0.02). Overall survival was shorter in patients receiving darbepoetin alfa (RR 1.28, 95% CI: 0.98, 1.68; p = 0.08).

5.3 Hypertension

RETACRIT is contraindicated in patients with uncontrolled hypertension. Following initiation and titration of epoetin alfa, approximately 25% of patients on dialysis required initiation of or increases in antihypertensive therapy; hypertensive encephalopathy and seizures have been reported in patients with CKD receiving epoetin alfa.

Appropriately control hypertension prior to initiation of and during treatment with RETACRIT. Reduce or withhold RETACRIT if blood pressure becomes difficult to control. Advise patients of the importance of compliance with antihypertensive therapy and dietary restrictions [see Patient Counseling Information (17)].

5.4 Seizures

Epoetin alfa products, including RETACRIT, increase the risk of seizures in patients with CKD. During the first several months following initiation of RETACRIT, monitor patients closely for premonitory neurologic symptoms. Advise patients to contact their healthcare practitioner for new-onset seizures, premonitory symptoms or change in seizure frequency.

5.5 Lack or Loss of Hemoglobin Response to RETACRIT

For lack or loss of hemoglobin response to RETACRIT, initiate a search for causative factors (e.g., iron deficiency, infection, inflammation, bleeding). If typical causes of lack or loss of hemoglobin response are excluded, evaluate for PRCA [see Warnings and Precautions (5.6)]. In the absence of PRCA, follow dosing recommendations for management of patients with an insufficient hemoglobin response to RETACRIT therapy [see Dosage and Administration (2.2)].

5.6 Pure Red Cell Aplasia

Cases of PRCA and of severe anemia, with or without other cytopenias that arise following the development of neutralizing antibodies to erythropoietin have been reported in patients treated with epoetin alfa. This has been reported predominantly in patients with CKD receiving ESAs by subcutaneous administration. PRCA has also been reported in patients receiving ESAs for anemia related to hepatitis C treatment (an indication for which RETACRIT is not approved).

If severe anemia and low reticulocyte count develop during treatment with RETACRIT, withhold RETACRIT and evaluate patients for neutralizing antibodies to erythropoietin. Contact Hospira, Inc., a Pfizer Company (1-800-438-1985) to perform assays for binding and neutralizing antibodies. Permanently discontinue RETACRIT in patients who develop PRCA following treatment with RETACRIT or other erythropoietin protein drugs. Do not switch patients to other ESAs.

5.7 Serious Allergic Reactions

Serious allergic reactions, including anaphylactic reactions, angioedema, bronchospasm, skin rash, and urticaria may occur with epoetin alfa products. Immediately and permanently discontinue RETACRIT and administer appropriate therapy if a serious allergic or anaphylactic reaction occurs.

5.8 Severe Cutaneous Reactions

Blistering and skin exfoliation reactions including Erythema multiforme and Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS)/Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TEN), have been reported in patients treated with ESAs (including epoetin alfa) in the postmarketing setting. Discontinue RETACRIT therapy immediately if a severe cutaneous reaction, such as SJS/TEN, is suspected.

5.9 Risk of Serious Adverse Reactions Due to Benzyl Alcohol Preservative

RETACRIT from multiple-dose vials contains benzyl alcohol and is contraindicated for use in neonates, infants, pregnant women, and lactating women [see Contraindications (4)]. In addition, do not mix RETACRIT with bacteriostatic saline (which also contains benzyl alcohol) when administering RETACRIT to these patient populations [see Dosage and Administration (2)].

Serious and fatal reactions including "gasping syndrome" can occur in neonates and infants treated with benzyl alcohol-preserved drugs, including RETACRIT multiple-dose vials. The "gasping syndrome" is characterized by central nervous system depression, metabolic acidosis, and gasping respirations. There is a potential for similar risks to fetuses and infants exposed to benzyl alcohol in utero or in breast-fed milk, respectively. RETACRIT multiple-dose vials contain 8.5 mg of benzyl alcohol per mL. The minimum amount of benzyl alcohol at which serious adverse reactions may occur is not known [see Use in Specific Populations (8.1, 8.2, and 8.4)].

5.10 Risk in Patients with Phenylketonuria

Phenylalanine can be harmful to patients with phenylketonuria (PKU). RETACRIT contains phenylalanine, a component of aspartame. Each 1 mL single-dose vial of 2,000, 3,000, 4,000, 10,000, and 40,000 Units of epoetin alfa-epbx injection contains 0.5 mg of phenylalanine. Before prescribing RETACRIT to a patient with PKU, consider the combined daily amount of phenylalanine from all sources, including RETACRIT.

5.11 Dialysis Management

Patients may require adjustments in their dialysis prescriptions after initiation of RETACRIT. Patients receiving RETACRIT may require increased anticoagulation with heparin to prevent clotting of the extracorporeal circuit during hemodialysis.

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