Ritonavir. Clinical pharmacokinetics and interactions with other anti-HIV agents

Clin Pharmacokinet. 1998 Oct;35(4):275-91. doi: 10.2165/00003088-199835040-00002.


Ritonavir is 1 of the 4 potent synthetic HIV protease inhibitors, approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) between 1995 and 1997, that have revolutionised HIV therapy. The extent of oral absorption is high and is not affected by food. Within the clinical concentration range, ritonavir is approximately 98 to 99% bound to plasma proteins, including albumin and alpha 1-acid glycoprotein. Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) drug concentrations are low in relation to total plasma concentration. However, parallel decreases in the viral burden have been observed in the plasma, CSF and other tissues. Ritonavir is primarily metabolised by cytochrome P450 (CYP) 3A isozymes and, to a lesser extent, by CYP2D6. Four major oxidative metabolites have been identified in humans, but are unlikely to contribute to the antiviral effect. About 34% and 3.5% of a 600 mg dose is excreted as unchanged drug in the faeces and urine, respectively. The clinically relevant t1/2 beta is about 3 to 5 hours. Because of autoinduction, plasma concentrations generally reach steady state 2 weeks after the start of administration. The pharmacokinetics of ritonavir are relatively linear after multiple doses, with apparent oral clearance averaging 7 to 9 L/h. In vitro, ritonavir is a potent inhibitor of CYP3A. In vivo, ritonavir significantly increases the AUC of drugs primarily eliminated by CYP3A metabolism (e.g. clarithromycin, ketoconazole, rifabutin, and other HIV protease inhibitors, including indinavir, saquinavir and nelfinavir) with effects ranging from an increase of 77% to 20-fold in humans. It also inhibits CYP2D6-mediated metabolism, but to a significantly lesser extent (145% increase in desipramine AUC). Since ritonavir is also an inducer of several metabolising enzymes [CYP1A4, glucuronosyl transferase (GT), and possibly CYP2C9 and CYP2C19], the magnitude of drug interactions is difficult to predict, particularly for drugs that are metabolised by multiple enzymes or have low intrinsic clearance by CYP3A. For example, the AUC of CYP3A substrate methadone was slightly decreased and alprazolam was unaffected. Ritonavir is minimally affected by other CYP3A inhibitors, including ketoconazole. Rifampicin (rifampin), a potent CYP3A inducer, decreased the AUC of ritonavir by only 35%. The degree and duration of suppression of HIV replication is significantly correlated with the plasma concentrations. Thus, the large increase in the plasma concentrations of other protease inhibitors when coadministered with ritonavir forms the basis of rational dual protease inhibitor regimens, providing patients with 2 potent drugs at significantly reduced doses and less frequent dosage intervals. Combination treatment of ritonavir with saquinavir and indinavir results in potent and sustained clinical activity. Other important factors with combination regimens include reduced interpatient variability for high clearance agents, and elimination of the food effect on the bioavailibility of indinavir.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-HIV Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Anti-HIV Agents / pharmacology
  • Drug Interactions
  • HIV Protease Inhibitors / pharmacokinetics*
  • HIV Protease Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Ritonavir / pharmacokinetics*
  • Ritonavir / pharmacology


  • Anti-HIV Agents
  • HIV Protease Inhibitors
  • Ritonavir