Cyclosporin is a lipophilic cyclic polypeptide immunosuppressant that interferes with the activity of T cells chiefly via calcineurin inhibition. The original oil-based oral formulation of this drug (Sandimmun)l was characterised by high intra- and interpatient pharmacokinetic variability, with poor bioavailability in many patients; a novel microemulsion formulation (Neoral)1 was therefore developed to circumvent these problems. Studies show increases, attributable chiefly to improved absorption in patients who absorb the drug only poorly from the original formulation, in mean systemic exposure to cyclosporin with the microemulsion, with no clinically significant differences in tolerability or drug interaction profiles. Cyclosporin microemulsion is at least as effective as the oil-based formulation in renal, liver and heart transplant recipients, with trends towards decreased incidence of acute rejection with the microemulsion formulation in some (statistically significant in a few) trials. Cyclosporin microemulsion and tacrolimus appear to have similar efficacy in preventing acute rejection episodes in most renal, pancreas-kidney, liver and heart transplant recipients. However, there are indications of superior efficacy for tacrolimus in some trials, particularly in the prevention of severe acute rejection and in Black transplant recipients. Current 12-month data also indicate equivalent efficacy of sirolimus in renal transplantation. Conversion from the oil-based to microemulsion formulation in stable renal, liver and heart transplant recipients is achievable with no change in acute rejection rates. The addition of an anti-interleukin-2 receptor monoclonal antibody and/or mycophenolate mofetil to cyclosporin microemulsion plus corticosteroids decreases rates of acute rejection; corticosteroid withdrawal without increased acute rejection rates was also achieved on the addition of these agents in some trials. Pharmacoeconomic analyses have shown savings in direct healthcare costs in kidney or liver transplantation when cyclosporin microemulsion is used in preference to the oil-based formulation, although studies incorporating indirect costs or expressing costs in terms of therapeutic outcomes are currently unavailable.
Conclusions: The introduction of cyclosporin microemulsion has consolidated the place of the drug as a mainstay of therapy in all types of solid organ transplantation; research into optimisation of outcomes through more effective therapeutic monitoring in patients receiving this formulation is ongoing. Several novel immunosuppressants have been introduced in recent years: further clinical and pharmacoeconomic research will be needed to clarify the relative positioning of these agents, particularly with respect to specific patient groups. Other new drugs (basiliximab/daclizumab and mycophenolate mofetil) offer particular advantages when used in combination with cyclosporin.