A rare, life-threatening anemia now has a new treatment option. The Food and Drug Administration announced the approval of pegcetacoplan (Empaveli) injection to treat adults with paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH). Pegcetacoplan is the first PNH treatment that binds to complement protein C3, according to the FDA announcement. Complement protein C3 is a key component of host immunity and defense.
Because of the risk of severe side effects, the drug is available only through a restricted program under a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS). Serious infections can occur in patients taking pegcetacoplan that can become life-threatening or fatal if not treated early. According to the FDA, REMS are designed to reinforce medication use behaviors and actions that support the safe use of that medication, and only a few drugs require a REMS.
The most common other side effects are injection site reactions, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fatigue.
Pegcetacoplan was approved based upon a study of 80 patients with PNH and anemia who had been taking eculizumab, a previously approved treatment. During 16 weeks of treatment, patients in the pegcetacoplan group had an average increase in their hemoglobin of 2.4 g/dL, while patients in the eculizumab group had an average decrease in their hemoglobin of 1.5 g/dL.
About the disease
PNH is caused by gene mutations that affect red blood cells, causing them to be defective and susceptible to destruction by a patient’s own immune system. Red blood cells in people with these mutations are defective and can be destroyed by the immune system, causing anemia.
Other symptoms include blood clots and destruction of bone marrow. The disease affects 1-1.5 people per million, with diagnosis typically occurring around ages 35-40, and a median survival of only 10 years after diagnosis, according to the FDA.