Rationale: Patients with Mycobacterium avium complex pulmonary disease are frequently administered a combination of clarithromycin, ethambutol, and rifampicin. However, rifampicin is known to reduce the serum levels of clarithromycin. It remains unclear whether a reduction in clarithromycin serum levels influences the clinical outcome of the Mycobacterium avium complex pulmonary disease treatment regimen.
Objectives: To compare a three-drug regimen (clarithromycin, ethambutol, and rifampicin) to a two-drug regimen (clarithromycin and ethambutol) for the treatment of Mycobacterium avium lung disease.
Methods: In a preliminary open-label study, we randomly assigned newly diagnosed, but as-yet untreated, patients with disease caused by Mycobacterium avium complex without HIV infection to either the three-drug or the two-drug regimen for 12 months. The primary endpoint was the conversion of sputum cultures to negative after 12 months of treatment. Patient data were analyzed using the intention-to-treat method.
Measurements and main results: Of 119 eligible patients, 59 were assigned to the three-drug regimen and 60 to the two-drug regimen. The rate of sputum culture conversion was 40.6% with the three-drug regimen and 55.0% with the two-drug regimen (difference, -14.4% [95% confidence interval, -32.1 to 3.4]). The incidence of adverse events leading to the discontinuation of treatment was 37.2 and 26.6% for the three-drug and the two-drug regimens, respectively.
Conclusions: This preliminary study suggests that treatment with clarithromycin and ethambutol is not inferior to treatment with clarithromycin, ethambutol, and rifampicin for Mycobacterium avium complex lung disease. Our findings justify a larger clinical trial to compare long-term clinical outcomes for the two treatment regimens. Clinical trial registered with http://www.umin.ac.jp/english/ (UMIN000002819).