Evaluation of leflunomide for the treatment of BK viremia and biopsy proven BK nephropathy; a single center experience

J Nephropathol. 2016 Jan;5(1):34-7. doi: 10.15171/jnp.2016.06. Epub 2015 Dec 23.


Background: BK virus reactivation is a significant complication following renal transplantation that can result in graft failure. Reduction of immunosuppression and substitution of leflunomide for mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) has been used to treat this entity.

Objectives: To evaluate the use of leflunomide in BK viremia (BKV) and biopsy proven BK nephropathy (BKN) in kidney and kidney-pancreas transplant recipients.

Patients and methods: We retrospectively reviewed 28 kidney and kidney-pancreas transplant recipients who had received leflunomide for BKV from January 2006 to November 2012. Demographics, time to BKV diagnosis, biopsy findings, rejection episodes, and laboratory data were recorded.

Results: The average (mean ± SD) time to BKV from time of transplant was 316.1 ± 368.0 days (62-1708 days). At time of diagnosis, 64% of patients had their maintenance immunosuppression reduced. The indications for leflunomide administration were; BKV and biopsy proven acute rejection (BPAR) (50%), biopsy proven BKN (18%), or persistent BKV (25%). Therapeutic levels (50-100 mcg/mL) were achieved in only 54% of patients, and 60% of them had required a leflunomide dose of at least 60 mg/day. BK virus was cleared from the serum on average of 151 ± 145.2 days (17-476 days). At study commencement, 29% of patients had remained on leflunomide due to persistent BKV.

Conclusions: In our study, most patients required at least a 60 mg daily dose of leflunomide to achieve therapeutic levels and to clear the virus compared to the standard 40 mg daily dose. Delaying therapy may result in progressive BKV and BKN.

Keywords: BK nephropathy; BK viremia; BK virus; Kidney transplant; Leflunomide; Polyomavirus.