Pharmacokinetics and safety of imiquimod 5% cream in the treatment of actinic keratoses of the face, scalp, or hands and arms

Arch Dermatol Res. 2004 Jun;296(1):6-11. doi: 10.1007/s00403-004-0465-4. Epub 2004 Apr 9.


The safety and efficacy of imiquimod 5% cream is being evaluated for the treatment of dysplastic lesions of the epidermis (actinic keratoses, AK). The objective of this clinical study was to describe the pharmacokinetics and safety of topical imiquimod during multiple dosing of AK subjects. A total of 58 adult subjects with 5 to 20 AK lesions at the treatment site applied imiquimod cream three times per week for up to 16 weeks as follows: 12 males and 11 females applied 12.5 mg imiquimod to the face; 11 males applied 25 mg to the entire balding area of the scalp; and 12 males and 12 females applied 75 mg to both hands and forearms. Pharmacokinetics and safety were assessed after the first and last doses, as well as biweekly. Imiquimod and its metabolites were measured in the serum and urine using sensitive liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry methods. Less than 0.6% of the applied doses was recovered in the urine of all subjects. Serum imiquimod levels were low, reflecting minimal dermal absorption, and increased with dose, although not proportionally. Peak levels at the end of dosing were 0.1, 0.2, and 1.6 ng/ml for the face, scalp, and hands/arms groups, respectively. A two- to fourfold accumulation was seen at the end of dosing. Local application site reactions were the most common adverse event, reported by approximately 50% of the subjects in each treatment group. The small number of systemic adverse events, including 'flu-like symptoms, were mostly mild and did not show a dose response. Thus, minimal systemic absorption and good safety margins for topical imiquimod were seen in AK subjects with doses as high as 75 mg three times per week for 16 weeks.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Absorption
  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / administration & dosage
  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / adverse effects*
  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / pharmacokinetics*
  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / therapeutic use
  • Administration, Topical
  • Aged
  • Aminoquinolines / administration & dosage
  • Aminoquinolines / adverse effects*
  • Aminoquinolines / pharmacokinetics*
  • Aminoquinolines / therapeutic use
  • Arm
  • Facial Dermatoses / drug therapy
  • Female
  • Hand
  • Humans
  • Imiquimod
  • Keratosis / drug therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Scalp Dermatoses / drug therapy


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Aminoquinolines
  • Imiquimod