Leukemia Drug Sales Suspended; Potential for Fatal Blood Clotting

The FDA has asked Ariad Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturer of the leukemia chemotherapy drug Iclusig (ponatinib), to suspend marketing and sales of Iclusig because of the risk of life-threatening blood clots and severe narrowing of blood vessels. The FDA will continue to evaluate the drug to further understand its risks and potential patient populations in which the benefits of the drug may outweigh the risks.


At this time, patients and health care professionals should follow the FDA’s new recommendations for the drug. Patients currently taking Iclusig who are not responding to the drug should immediately discontinue treatment and discuss alternative treatment options with their health care professionals. Patients who are currently taking Iclusig and responding to the drug and whose health care professionals determine that the potential benefits outweigh the risks should be treated under a single-patient Investigational New Drug (IND) application or expanded access registry program while the FDA’s safety investigation continues. Health care professionals should not start treating new patients with Iclusig unless no other treatment options are available and all other available therapies have failed. Upon the determination of their health care professional, these patients can be considered for treatment under an IND or expanded access registry program.


The FDA’s recent investigation of Iclusig revealed an increased frequency of blood clots and narrowing of blood vessels since the drug was approved in December 2012. Currently, approximately 24 percent of patients (nearly 1 out of 4) in the Phase 2 clinical trial (median treatment duration 1.3 years) and approximately 48 percent of patients in the Phase 1 clinical trial (median treatment duration 2.7 years) have experienced serious adverse vascular events, including fatal and life-threatening heart attack, stroke, loss of blood flow to the extremities resulting in tissue death, and severe narrowing of blood vessels in the extremities, heart, and brain requiring urgent surgical procedures to restore blood flow.


In the Phase 2 clinical trial, adverse events affecting the blood vessels that supply the heart were observed in 12 percent of patients. Adverse events affecting the blood vessels that supply the brain were observed in six percent of patients. Adverse events affecting the blood vessels that supply extremities were observed in eight percent of patients. Patients with and without cardiovascular risk factors, including patients in their twenties, have experienced these events. Serious adverse reactions involving the eyes, which led to blindness or blurred vision, occurred in Iclusig-treated patients. High blood pressure occurred in 67 percent of patients treated with Iclusig in the clinical trials. Heart failure, including fatalities, occurred in eight percent of patients treated with the drug.


In some patients, fatal and serious adverse events have occurred as early as two weeks after starting Iclusig therapy. The Phase 1 and 2 clinical trials did not include a control group so it is not possible to determine the relationship of these adverse events to Iclusig, however the increasing rate and pattern of the events strongly suggests that many are drug-related. At this time, the FDA cannot identify a dose level or exposure duration that is safe.


See the FDA Announcement


See also Medical Law Perspectives, May 2013 Report: Drugs, Dosage, and Damage: Physician Liability for Prescribing or Administering Medication