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Am J Med Sci. 1997 May;313(5):289-301.

Leflunomide and malononitrilamides.

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Nephrology Division, Escola Paulista de Medicina, São Paulo, Brazil.


Leflunomide is a new immunomodulatory drug that is effective in experimental models of autoimmune diseases and in allo or xenotransplantation. In a phase II clinical trial, leflunomide showed high tolerability and efficacy in patients with advanced rheumatoid arthritis. The immunomodulatory activity of leflunomide is attributed to its primary metabolite A77 1726, which is a malononitrilamide. The in vitro and in vivo mechanisms of action of this class of compounds are not defined completely. Several malononitrilamide analogues and A77 1726 inhibit T- and B-cell proliferation, suppress immunoglobulin production, and interfere with cell adhesion. Although no central molecular mechanism of action has been proposed to explain all the effects of the malononitrilamides, the inhibition of de novo pyrimidine biosynthesis and of cytokine- and growth factor receptor-associated tyrosine kinase activity are leading hypotheses for the effects of A77 1726 on T- and B-cell proliferation and function. Leflunomide is effective when administered in daily dosages of 10 mg and 25 mg to patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. The improved efficacy of a 25 mg dose is associated with a higher incidence of adverse effects (gastrointestinal symptoms, weight loss, allergic reactions, skin rash, and reversible alopecia). Because of the long plasma half-life of A77 1726 (11 to 16 days), loading doses are necessary to achieve steady state concentrations. Phase III randomized, placebo-controlled trials that use daily dosages of 10 mg or 20 mg are under way in the United States and Europe to confirm and extend the results of the phase II study. Malononitrilamide analogues of A77 1726 are being evaluated for immunosuppressive efficacy in preclinical models of transplantation. If these analogues show efficacies and therapeutic indexes that are similar to leflunomide in these models and that have shorter half-lives than A77 1726 in phase I trials, the preclinical and phase I data will be used to select the analogues for phase II trials in organ transplant recipients.

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