GENERIC NAME: epoetin alfa
BRAND NAME: Epogen, Procrit
DRUG CLASS AND MECHANISM: Epoetin alfa is a man-made, injectable drug for treating anemia. Erythropoietin is a protein that normally is made in the body by the kidney. It causes the bone marrow to produce oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Under normal conditions, when the body senses a decrease in red blood cells or a deficiency in the supply of oxygen, more erythropoietin is produced, and this increases the number of red blood cells. When this natural mechanism is not working, it may become necessary to stimulate the bone marrow to produce red blood cells. The erythropoietin that is used for therapy, called epoetin alfa, is man-made. It is a product of the genetic engineering of ovarian cells of the Chinese hamster and is produced through recombinant DNA technology in bacteria. It does not cure the underlying cause of the anemia, and unless the underlying cause can be reversed, treatment with epoetin alfa must be continued indefinitely.
Epoetin alfa belongs to a class of drugs called colony-stimulating factors because of their ability to stimulate cells in the bone marrow to multiply and form colonies of identical cells. Other colony-stimulating factors include filigrastim (Neupogen) and sargramostim (Leukine). Epogen and Procrit are both epoetin alfa, but they are marketed by two different pharmaceutical companies. The FDA approved epoetin alfa in June 1989.
PRESCRIBED FOR: Epoetin alfa is used to treat anemia that is associated with chronic kidney failure in patients who are or will be receiving renal dialysis. It also is used to treat anemia in patients with HIV infection who are receiving zidovudine (Retrovir) and in patients with cancer who are receiving chemotherapy and develop anemia. Epoetin alfa may be used to replace transfusions of red blood cells in patients who are anemic and undergoing surgery. Epoetin alfa has not been shown to improve fatigue or quality of life in patients with cancer.
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