What is Proleukin (aldesleukin)?

Proleukin (aldesleukin) is a man-made protein that has the same action as native human interleukin-2 (IL-2) used to treat cancers of the kidney and skin (melanoma). 

Proleukin causes side effects in almost every organ. Because of these side effects, Proleukin only can be given to patients who are physically and mentally able to tolerate them. 

Common side effects of Proleukin include:

Serious side effects of Proleukin include heart attacks and decreases in blood pressure that can be dramatic and even result in death.

Drug interactions of Proleukin include:

  • drugs that cause damage to the heart (for example, doxorubicin),
  • drugs that damage the kidneys such as aminoglycosides or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs),
  • narcotics,
  • sedatives,
  • tranquilizers,
  • drugs that cause liver damage such as isoniazid (INH),
  • corticosteroids,
  • beta-blockers and other antihypertensive drugs,
  • and iodinated contrast media used for some X-rays

It is unknown if Proleukin can harm a fetus. Because of its known side effects, the manufacturer recommends Proleukin only be given to pregnant women using extreme caution. 

It is unknown if Proleukin is excreted in breast milk. Because of its known side effects, the manufacturer recommends Proleukin only be given to breastfeeding women using extreme caution.

What are the important side effects of Proleukin (aldesleukin)?

Aldesleukin causes side effects in almost every organ. Because of these side effects, aldesleukin only can be given to patients who are physically and mentally able to tolerate them. Most of the side effects are due to "capillary leak" which begins immediately after treatment is started.

Capillary leak results in the leakage of proteins out of blood. This causes a loss of fluid from the blood, a decrease in the volume of blood, and a decrease in blood pressure. The decrease in blood pressure can be dramatic and even result in death. More than two-thirds of patients require injectable medications to treat the low blood pressure.

Other important side effects are:

Proleukin (aldesleukin) side effects list for healthcare professionals

The rate of drug-related deaths in the 255 metastatic RCC patients who received single-agent Proleukin® (aldesleukin) was 4% (11/255); the rate of drug-related deaths in the 270 metastatic melanoma patients who received single-agent Proleukin was 2% (6/270).

The following data on common adverse events (reported in greater than 10% of patients, any grade), presented by body system, decreasing frequency and by preferred term (COSTART) are based on 525 patients (255 with renal cell cancer and 270 with metastatic melanoma) treated with the recommended infusion dosing regimen.


Body System% PatientsBody System% Patients
Body as a Whole Metabolic and Nutritional Disorders
  Chills52  Bilirubinemia40
  Fever29  Creatinine increase33
  Malaise27  Peripheral edema28
  Asthenia23  SGOT increase23
  Infection13  Weight gain16
  Pain12  Edema15
  Abdominal pain11  Acidosis12
  Abdomen enlarged10  Hypomagnesemia12
Cardiovascular   Hypocalcemia11
  Hypotension71  Alkaline phosphatase increase10
  Vasodilation13  Confusion34
  Supraventricular tachycardia12  Somnolence22
  Cardiovascular disordera 11  Anxiety12
  Arrhythmia10  Dizziness11
Digestive Respiratory
  Diarrhea67  Dyspnea43
  Vomiting50  Lung disorderb 24
  Nausea35  Respiratory disorderc 11
  Stomatitis22  Cough increase11
  Anorexia20  Rhinitis10
  Nausea and vomiting19Skin and Appendages
Hemic and Lymphatic   Rash42
  Thrombocytopenia37  Pruritus24
  Anemia29  Exfoliative dermatitis18
aCardiovascular disorder: fluctuations in blood pressure, asymptomatic ECG changes, CHF.
bLung disorder: physical findings associated with pulmonary congestion, rales, rhonchi.
cRespiratory disorder: ARDS, CXR infiltrates, unspecified pulmonary changes.

The following data on life-threatening adverse events (reported in greater than 1% of patients, grade 4), presented by body system, and by preferred term (COSTART) are based on 525 patients (255 with renal cell cancer and 270 with metastatic melanoma) treated with the recommended infusion dosing regimen.


Body System# (%) PatientsBody System# (%) Patients
Body as a Whole Metabolic and Nutritional Disorders
  Fever5 (1%)  Bilirubinemia13 (2%)
  Infection7 (1%)  Creatinine increase5 (1%)
  Sepsis6 (1%)  SGOT increase3 (1%)
Cardiovascular   Acidosis4 (1%)
  Hypotension15 (3%)Nervous
  Supraventricular tachycardia3 (1%)  Confusion5 (1%)
  Cardiovascular disordera7 (1%)  Stupor3 (1%)
  Myocardial infarct7 (1%)  Coma8 (2%)
  Ventricular tachycardia5 (1%)  Psychosis7 (1%)
  Cardiac arrest4 (1%)Respiratory
Digestive   Dyspnea5 (1%)
  Diarrhea10 (2%)  Respiratory disorderc14 (3%)
  Vomiting7 (1%)  Apnea5 (1%)
Hemic and Lymphatic Urogenital
  Thrombocytopenia5 (1%)  Oliguria33 (6%)
  Coagulation disorderb4 (1%)  Anuria25 (5%)
  Acute kidney failure3 (1%)
aCardiovascular disorder: fluctuations in blood pressure.
bCoagulation disorder: intravascular coagulopathy.
cRespiratory disorder: ARDS, respiratory failure, intubation.

The following life-threatening (grade 4) events were reported by < 1% of the 525 patients:

In an additional population of greater than 1,800 patients treated with Proleukin-based regimens using a variety of doses and schedules (e.g., subcutaneous, continuous infusion, administration with LAK cells) the following serious adverse events were reported:

In the same clinical population, the following fatal events each occurred with a frequency of < 1%:

In patients with both metastatic RCC and metastatic melanoma, those with ECOG PS of 1 or higher had a higher treatment-related mortality and serious adverse events.

Most adverse reactions are self-limiting and, usually, but not invariably, reverse or improve within 2 or 3 days of discontinuation of therapy. Examples of adverse reactions with permanent sequelae include:

  • myocardial infarction,
  • bowel perforation/infarction,
  • and gangrene.


  • Serum samples from patients in the clinical studies were tested by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for anti-aldesleukin antibodies. Low titers of anti-aldesleukin antibodies were detected in 57 of 77 (74%) patients with metastatic renal cell carcinoma treated with an every 8-hour Proleukin regimen and in 33 of 50 (66%) patients with metastatic melanoma treated with a variety of intravenous regimens.
  • In a separate study, the effect of immunogenicity on the pharmacokinetics of aldesleukin was evaluated in 13 patients. Following the first cycle of therapy, comparing the geometric mean aldesleukin exposure (AUC) Day 15 to Day 1, there was an average 68% increase in 11 patients who developed anti-aldesleukin antibodies and no change was observed in the antibody-negative patients (n=2). Overall, neutralizing antibodies were detected in 1 patient. The impact of antialdesleukin antibody formation on clinical efficacy and safety of Proleukin is unknown.
  • Immunogenicity assay results are highly dependent on several factors including assay sensitivity and specificity, assay methodology, sample handling, timing of sample collection, concomitant medications, and underlying disease. For these reasons, comparison of incidence of antibodies to Proleukin with the incidence of antibodies to other products may be misleading.

Post Marketing Experience

The following adverse reactions have been identified during post-approval use of Proleukin. Because these reactions are reported voluntarily from a population of uncertain size, it is not always possible to reliably estimate their frequency or establish a causal relationship to drug exposure.

Exacerbation or initial presentation of a number of autoimmune and inflammatory disorders have been reported. Persistent but nonprogressive vitiligo has been observed in malignant melanoma patients treated with interleukin-2. Synergistic, additive and novel toxicities have been reported with Proleukin used in combination with other drugs. Novel toxicities include delayed adverse reactions to iodinated contrast media and hypersensitivity reactions to antineoplastic agents.

Experience has shown the following concomitant medications to be useful in the management of patients on Proleukin therapy:

  • standard antipyretic therapy, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), started immediately prior to Proleukin to reduce fever. Renal function should be monitored as some NSAIDs may cause synergistic nephrotoxicity;
  • meperidine used to control the rigors associated with fever;
  • H2 antagonists given for prophylaxis of gastrointestinal irritation and bleeding;
  • antiemetics and antidiarrheals used as needed to treat other gastrointestinal side effects. Generally these medications were discontinued 12 hours after the last dose of Proleukin.

Patients with indwelling central lines have a higher risk of infection with gram positive organisms. A reduced incidence of staphylococcal infections in Proleukin studies has been associated with the use of antibiotic prophylaxis which includes the use of oxacillin, nafcillin, ciprofloxacin, or vancomycin. Hydroxyzine or diphenhydramine has been used to control symptoms from pruritic rashes and continued until resolution of pruritus.

Topical creams and ointments should be applied as needed for skin manifestations. Preparations containing a steroid (e.g., hydrocortisone) should be avoided. NOTE: Prior to the use of any product mentioned, the physician should refer to the package insert for the respective product.

What drugs interact with Proleukin (aldesleukin)?

  • Proleukin may affect central nervous function. Therefore, interactions could occur following concomitant administration of psychotropic drugs (e.g., narcotics, analgesics, antiemetics, sedatives, tranquilizers).
  • Concurrent administration of drugs possessing nephrotoxic (e.g., aminoglycosides, indomethacin), myelotoxic (e.g., cytotoxic chemotherapy), cardiotoxic (e.g., doxorubicin) or hepatotoxic (e.g., methotrexate, asparaginase) effects with Proleukin may increase toxicity in these organ systems. The safety and efficacy of Proleukin in combination with any antineoplastic agents have not been established.
  • In addition, reduced kidney and liver function secondary to Proleukin treatment may delay elimination of concomitant medications and increase the risk of adverse events from those drugs.
  • Hypersensitivity reactions have been reported in patients receiving combination regimens containing sequential high dose Proleukin and antineoplastic agents, specifically, dacarbazine, cis-platinum, tamoxifen and interferon-alfa. These reactions consisted of erythema, pruritus, and hypotension and occurred within hours of administration of chemotherapy. These events required medical intervention in some patients.
  • Myocardial injury, including myocardial infarction, myocarditis, ventricular hypokinesia, and severe rhabdomyolysis appear to be increased in patients receiving Proleukin and interferonalfa concurrently.
  • Exacerbation or the initial presentation of a number of autoimmune and inflammatory disorders has been observed following concurrent use of interferon-alfa and Proleukin, including crescentic IgA glomerulonephritis, oculo-bulbar myasthenia gravis, inflammatory arthritis, thyroiditis, bullous pemphigoid, and Stevens-Johnson syndrome.
  • Although glucocorticoids have been shown to reduce Proleukin-induced side effects including fever, renal insufficiency, hyperbilirubinemia, confusion, and dyspnea, concomitant administration of these agents with Proleukin may reduce the antitumor effectiveness of Proleukin and thus should be avoided.
  • Beta-blockers and other antihypertensives may potentiate the hypotension seen with Proleukin.

Delayed Adverse Reactions to Iodinated Contrast Media

  • A review of the literature revealed that 12.6% (range 11-28%) of 501 patients treated with various interleukin-2 containing regimens who were subsequently administered radiographic iodinated contrast media experienced acute, atypical adverse reactions.
  • The onset of symptoms usually occurred within hours (most commonly 1 to 4 hours) following the administration of contrast media. These reactions include fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, pruritus, rash, diarrhea, hypotension, edema, and oliguria.
  • Some clinicians have noted that these reactions resemble the immediate side effects caused by interleukin-2 administration, however the cause of contrast reactions after interleukin-2 therapy is unknown. Most events were reported to occur when contrast media was given within 4 weeks after the last dose of interleukin-2. These events were also reported to occur when contrast media was given several months after interleukin-2 treatment.

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Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2020
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