Population pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of hydroxyurea in sickle cell anemia patients, a basis for optimizing the dosing regimen

Orphanet J Rare Dis. 2011 May 28;6:30. doi: 10.1186/1750-1172-6-30.


Background: Hydroxyurea (HU) is the first approved pharmacological treatment of sickle cell anemia (SCA). The objectives of this study were to develop population pharmacokinetic(PK)-pharmacodynamic(PD) models for HU in order to characterize the exposure-efficacy relationships and their variability, compare two dosing regimens by simulations and develop some recommendations for monitoring the treatment.

Methods: The models were built using population modelling software NONMEM VII based on data from two clinical studies of SCA adult patients receiving 500-2000 mg of HU once daily. Fetal hemoglobin percentage (HbF%) and mean corpuscular volume (MCV) were used as biomarkers for response. A sequential modelling approach was applied. Models were evaluated using simulation-based techniques. Comparisons of two dosing regimens were performed by simulating 10000 patients in each arm during 12 months.

Results: The PK profiles were described by a bicompartmental model. The median (and interindividual coefficient of variation (CV)) of clearance was 11.6 L/h (30%), the central volume was 45.3 L (35%). PK steady-state was reached in about 35 days. For a given dosing regimen, HU exposure varied approximately fivefold among patients. The dynamics of HbF% and MCV were described by turnover models with inhibition of elimination of response. In the studied range of drug exposures, the effect of HU on HbF% was at its maximum (median Imax was 0.57, CV was 27%); the effect on MCV was close to its maximum, with median value of 0.14 and CV of 49%. Simulations showed that 95% of the steady-state levels of HbF% and MCV need 26 months and 3 months to be reached, respectively. The CV of the steady-state value of HbF% was about 7 times larger than that of MCV. Simulations with two different dosing regimens showed that continuous dosing led to a stronger HbF% increase in some patients.

Conclusions: The high variability of response to HU was related in part to pharmacokinetics and to pharmacodynamics. The steady-state value of MCV at month 3 is not predictive of the HbF% value at month 26. Hence, HbF% level may be a better biomarker for monitoring HU treatment. Continuous dosing might be more advantageous in terms of HbF% for patients who have a strong response to HU.

Trial registration: The clinical studies whose data are analysed and reported in this work were not required to be registered in France at their time. Both studies were approved by local ethics committees (of Mondor Hospital and of Kremlin-Bicetre Hospital) and written informed consent was obtained from each patient.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / drug therapy*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydroxyurea / blood
  • Hydroxyurea / pharmacokinetics*
  • Hydroxyurea / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Biological
  • Young Adult


  • Hydroxyurea