Clinical pharmacokinetics of sirolimus

Clin Pharmacokinet. 2001;40(8):573-85. doi: 10.2165/00003088-200140080-00002.


Sirolimus (previously known as rapamycin), a macrocyclic lactone, is a potent immunosuppressive agent. Sirolimus was recently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, on the basis of 2 large, double-blind, prospective clinical trials, for use in kidney transplant recipients at a fixed dosage of 2 or 5 mg/day in addition to full dosages of cyclosporin and prednisone. However, despite the fixed dosage regimens used in these pivotal trials, pharmacokinetic and clinical data show that sirolimus is a critical-dose drug requiring therapeutic drug monitoring to minimise drug-related toxicities and maximise efficacy. Assays using high performance liquid chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry, although cumbersome, are the gold standard for evaluating other commonly used assays, such as liquid chromatography with ultraviolet detection, radioreceptor assay and microparticle enzyme immunoassay. Sirolimus is available in oral solution and tablet form. It has poor oral absorption and distributes widely in tissues, displaying not only a wide inter- and intrapatient variability in drug clearance, but also less than optimal correlations between whole blood concentrations and drug dose, demographic features or patient characteristics. Furthermore, the critical role of the cytochrome P450 3A4 system for sirolimus biotransformation leads to extensive drug-drug interactions, among which are increases in cyclosporin concentrations. Thus, sirolimus is now being used to reduce or eliminate exposure to cyclosporin or corticosteroids. The long elimination half-life of sirolimus necessitates a loading dose but allows once daily administration, which is more convenient and thereby could help to improve patient compliance. This review emphasises the importance of blood concentration monitoring in optimising the use of sirolimus. The excellent correlation between steady-state trough concentration (at least 4 days after inception of, or change in, therapy) and area under the concentration-time curve makes the former a simple and reliable index for monitoring sirolimus exposure. Target trough concentration ranges depend on the concomitant immunosuppressive regimen, but a range of 5 to 15 microg/L is appropriate if cyclosporin is being used at trough concentrations of 75 to 150 microg/L. Weekly monitoring is recommended for the first month and bi-weekly for the next month; thereafter,concentration measurements are necessary only if warranted clinically.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Area Under Curve
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Drug Interactions
  • Humans
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / chemistry
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / metabolism
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Kidney Transplantation
  • Sirolimus / chemistry
  • Sirolimus / metabolism
  • Sirolimus / pharmacokinetics*
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Sirolimus