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Clin Pharmacokinet. 2004;43(7):441-66.

Pharmacokinetic optimisation of treatment with oral etoposide.

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Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology Unit, Centro di Riferimento Oncologico, National Cancer Institute, Aviano, Italy.


Etoposide is a derivative of podophyllotoxin widely used in the treatment of several neoplasms, including small cell lung cancer, germ cell tumours and non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. Prolonged administration of etoposide aims for continuous inhibition of topoisomerase II, the intracellular target of etoposide, thus preventing tumour cells from repairing DNA breaks. However, the clinical advantages of extended schedules as compared with conventional short-term infusions remain unclear. Oral administration of etoposide represents the most feasible and economic strategy to maintain effective concentrations of drug for extended times. Nevertheless, the efficacy of oral etoposide therapy is contingent on circumventing pharmacokinetic limitations, mainly low and variable bioavailability. Inhibition of small bowel and hepatic metabolism of etoposide with specific cytochrome P450 inhibitors or inhibition of the intestinal P-glycoprotein efflux pump have been attempted to increase the bioavailability of oral etoposide, but the best results were obtained with daily oral administration of low etoposide doses (50-100 mg/day for 14-21 days). Saturable absorption of etoposide was reported for doses greater than 200 mg/day, whereas lower doses were associated with increased bioavailability, although they were characterised by high inter- and intrapatient variability. Pharmacokinetic parameters such as plasma trough concentration between two oral administrations (C(24,trough)), drug exposure time above a threshold value and area under the plasma concentration-time curve have been correlated with the pharmacodynamic effect of oral etoposide. Pharmacokinetic-pharmacodynamic relationships indicate that severe toxicity is avoided when peak plasma concentrations do not exceed 3-5 mg/L and C(24,trough) is under the threshold limit of 0.3 mg/L. To maintain effective etoposide plasma concentrations during prolonged oral administration, pharmacokinetic variability must be monitored in each patient, taking account of factors from many pharmacokinetic studies of etoposide, including absorption, distribution, protein binding, metabolism and elimination. Dosage reduction is generally useful to avoid haematological toxicity in patients with renal dysfunction (creatinine clearance <50 mL/min). The need for dosage adjustment based on liver function in patients with liver dysfunction is not completely defined, but generally is not indicated in patients with minor liver dysfunction. Adaptive dosage adjustment based on individual pharmacokinetic parameters, estimated using limited sampling strategies and population pharmacokinetic models, is more appropriate. This approach has been used with success in different clinical trials to increase the etoposide dosage, without significantly increasing toxicity. Various pharmacodynamic models have been proposed to guide etoposide oral dosage. However, they lack precision and accuracy and need to be refined by considering other predictor variables in order to extend their application in current clinical practice.

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