Pharmacokinetics and tolerability of formoterol in healthy volunteers after a single high dose of Foradil dry powder inhalation via Aerolizer

Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 1999 Apr;55(2):131-8. doi: 10.1007/s002280050607.


Objective: The pharmacokinetics of the long-acting beta2-agonist formoterol fumarate, which is a racemate of the (S,S)- and (R,R)-enantiomers were evaluated in 12 healthy (eight male, four female) volunteers after a single inhaled high dose of 120 microg of formoterol fumarate. The tolerability and safety were also assessed.

Methods: Each volunteer inhaled the single 120-microg dose through the Aerolizer device within 2-5 min, using ten 12-microg dry powder capsules for inhalation. Formoterol, i.e., the sum of both enantiomers, was determined in plasma over 24 h, whereas the separate enantiomers were determined in urine over 48 h. Incidence, seriousness and severity of adverse experiences, electrocardiogram (ECG), including the corrected QT interval (QTc) calculation, systolic blood pressure, heart rate, and plasma potassium levels were recorded.

Results: In nine of the 12 volunteers, the peak plasma concentration of formoterol was observed already at 5 min after inhalation. The absorption kinetics were complex, as depicted by multiple peaks or shoulders within 0.5-6 h after inhalation. Mean with (SD; n = 12) of maximum concentration (Cmax) and area under the curve (AUC) of formoterol in plasma were 266 (108) pmol x l(-1) and 1330 (398) pmol x l(-1), respectively. The moderate inter-individual variability in systemic exposure of formoterol reflects the homogeneous pharmacokinetics of the drug. A predominant slow elimination of formoterol from plasma with a mean half-life (t1/2) of 10 h was demonstrated. Assuming linear kinetics in plasma suggested by urinary data, the steady-state trough plasma levels of formoterol for a b.i.d. dosing regimen are predicted to amount to 20% of Cmax. In urine, mean with (SD; n = 10) of the amount excreted over 48 h was 3.61 (0.89)% of dose for the pharmacologically active (R,R)-enantiomer and 4.80 (1.33)% of dose for the (S,S)-enantiomer. The terminal half-lives calculated from the excretion rate-time curves, i.e., 13.9 h and 12.3 h for the (R,R)- and (S,S)-enantiomer, respectively, confirm the slow elimination of formoterol from plasma. The dose inhaled was 10 times the most frequently recommended dose (12 microg) and 5 times the highest recommended dose (24 microg). Ten of 12 subjects experienced mild and transient nervousness. Pulse readings demonstrated the maximum mean increase of 25.8 beats x min(-1) at 6 h. The mean maximum QTc increase was 25 msec at 6 h. Pulse and QTc values returned to baseline or close to baseline values at 24 h or before. Potassium levels in plasma decreased in eight out of 12 subjects; the lowest mean value was 3.53 mmol x l(-1) at 2 h post-dose. The lowest individual potassium measurement was 2.95 mmol x l(-1) between 15 min and 6 h. By 8 h post-dose all values had returned to within the normal ranges.

Conclusions: The extremely fast appearance of formoterol in plasma shows the predominance of airways absorption shortly after inhalation. Due to a terminal elimination half-life of about 10 h, sustained systemic concentrations of formoterol are predicted for a twice daily treatment regimen without noteworthy accumulation. The excreted amounts in percent of dose of the enantiomers in urine and the enantiomer ratio are similar to data reported previously after lower doses and suggest linear kinetics for doses between 12 microg and 120 microg of formoterol fumarate. The expected side effects on heart rate, QTc interval, and plasma potassium were small and had no clinical consequences in spite of the very high dose of 120 microg (5 to 10 times the recommended therapeutic dose of Foradil). It should be noted that the impact of high doses may be greater in patients. Nevertheless these findings provide reassurance on the safety margin of formoterol after accidental and intentional overdosing.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / administration & dosage
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / adverse effects
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / blood
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / pharmacokinetics*
  • Adult
  • Area Under Curve
  • Bronchodilator Agents / administration & dosage
  • Bronchodilator Agents / adverse effects
  • Bronchodilator Agents / blood
  • Bronchodilator Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Ethanolamines / administration & dosage
  • Ethanolamines / adverse effects
  • Ethanolamines / blood
  • Ethanolamines / pharmacokinetics*
  • Female
  • Formoterol Fumarate
  • Heart / drug effects
  • Heart Function Tests
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nebulizers and Vaporizers
  • Powders
  • Stereoisomerism


  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists
  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • Ethanolamines
  • Powders
  • Formoterol Fumarate