Benefit-risk assessment of sirolimus in renal transplantation

Drug Saf. 2005;28(2):153-81. doi: 10.2165/00002018-200528020-00006.


Sirolimus (rapamycin) is a macrocyclic lactone isolated from a strain of Streptomyces hygroscopicus that inhibits the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR)-mediated signal-transduction pathways, resulting in the arrest of cell cycle of various cell types, including T- and B-lymphocytes. Sirolimus has been demonstrated to prolong graft survival in various animal models of transplantation, ranging from rodents to primates for both heterotopic, as well as orthotopic organ grafting, bone marrow transplantation and islet cell grafting. In human clinical renal transplantation, sirolimus in combination with ciclosporin (cyclosporine) efficiently reduces the incidence of acute allograft rejection. Because of the synergistic effect of sirolimus on ciclosporin-induced nephrotoxicity, a prolonged combination of the two drugs inevitably leads to progressive irreversible renal allograft damage. Early elimination of calcineurin inhibitor therapy or complete avoidance of the latter by using sirolimus therapy is the optimal strategy for this drug. Prospective randomised phase II and III clinical studies have confirmed this approach, at least for recipients with a low to moderate immunological risk. For patients with a high immunological risk or recipients exposed to delayed graft function, sirolimus might not constitute the best therapeutic choice--despite its ability to enable calcineurin inhibitor sparing in the latter situation--because of its anti-proliferative effects on recovering renal tubular cells. Whether lower doses of sirolimus or a combination with a reduced dose of tacrolimus would be advantageous in these high risk situations remains to be determined. Clinically relevant adverse effects of sirolimus that require a specific therapeutic response or can potentially influence short- and long-term patient morbidity and mortality as well as graft survival include hypercholesterolaemia, hypertriglyceridaemia, infectious and non-infectious pneumonia, anaemia, lymphocele formation and impaired wound healing. These drug-related adverse effects are important determinants in the choice of a tailor-made immunosuppressive drug regimen that complies with the individual patient risk profile. Equally important in the latter decision is the lack of severe intrinsic nephrotoxicity associated with sirolimus and its advantageous effects on arterial hypertension, post-transplantation diabetes mellitus and esthetic changes induced by calcineurin inhibitors. Mild and transient thrombocytopenia, leukopenia, gastrointestinal adverse effects and mucosal ulcerations are all minor complications of sirolimus therapy that have less impact on the decision for choosing this drug as the basis for tailor-made immunosuppressive therapy. It is clear that sirolimus has gained a proper place in the present-day immunosuppressive armament used in renal transplantation and will contribute to the development of a tailor-made immunosuppressive therapy aimed at fulfilling the requirements outlined by the individual patient profile.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Graft Rejection / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / adverse effects*
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Kidney Transplantation*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sirolimus / adverse effects*
  • Sirolimus / therapeutic use*


  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Sirolimus