epoetin alfa, Epogen, Procrit

  • Pharmacy Author:
    Omudhome Ogbru, PharmD

    Dr. Ogbru received his Doctorate in Pharmacy from the University of the Pacific School of Pharmacy in 1995. He completed a Pharmacy Practice Residency at the University of Arizona/University Medical Center in 1996. He was a Professor of Pharmacy Practice and a Regional Clerkship Coordinator for the University of the Pacific School of Pharmacy from 1996-99.

  • Medical and Pharmacy Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

What is epoetin alfa, and how does it work (mechanism of action)?

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.

What brand names are available for epoetin alfa?

Epogen, Procrit

Is epoetin alfa available as a generic drug?

GENERIC AVAILABLE: No

Do I need a prescription for epoetin alfa?

Yes

What are the side effects of epoetin alfa?

The most common side effects of epoetin alfa in patients with kidney failure on dialysis are:

Rare cases of stinging at the injection site, skin rash and flu-like symptoms (joint and muscle pain) have occurred within a few hours following administration.

Allergic reactions, seizures, and thrombotic events (for example, heart attacks, strokes, and pulmonary embolism ) rarely occur.

In HIV-infected patients receiving zidovudine, the most common side effects with epoetin alfa are fever, headache, rash, and nasal or chest congestion. Rare cases of seizures or severe rash have occurred in these patients.

The most common side effects in patients undergoing surgery with anemia are:

Blood clots in veins, referred to as a deep venous thrombosis, also may occur.

Among patients with cancer receiving chemotherapy, the most common side effects of epoetin alfa are:

  • fever,
  • diarrhea,
  • tissue swelling,
  • shortness of breath,
  • paresthesia (abnormal sensations like burning or prickling that may occur anywhere in the body), and
  • upper respiratory infection.

Treatment with epoetin alfa may increase the growth of several types of cancer and reduce survival, and, therefore, its use should be restricted to the conditions discussed previously.

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