News from the FDA/CDC

Death data spur black-box warning for gout drug Uloric


The gout drug febuxostat (Uloric) poses a significantly higher risk of all-cause and heart-related death than does the popular alternative drug allopurinol, the Food and Drug Administration declared on Feb. 21. The agency is now mandating a black-box warning.

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“Health care professionals should reserve Uloric for use only in patients who have failed or do not tolerate allopurinol,” the FDA announced. “Counsel patients about the cardiovascular risk with Uloric,” the agency suggested, and advise them to seek medical attention at once if they have cardiac symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, rapid or irregular heartbeat, or dizziness.

The FDA’s move comes a decade after it approved febuxostat as a gout treatment. As the FDA noted in its announcement, “the number of medicines to treat gout is limited, and there is an unmet need for treatments for this disease.”

Research has suggested that both febuxostat and allopurinol have similar efficacy. Some experts have recommended febuxostat as an alternative for patients who shouldn’t take allopurinol (Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2013 Dec;43[3]:367-75).

However, research has raised concerns about febuxostat’s cardiac risk. In its Feb. 21 statement, the FDA pointed to the findings of a 2010-2017 postmarket clinical trial of 6,190 patients with gout who were treated with febuxostat or allopurinol (N Engl J Med. 2018;378:1200-10).

“In patients treated with Uloric, 15 deaths from heart-related causes were observed for every 1,000 patients treated for a year compared to 11 deaths from heart-related causes per 1,000 patients treated with allopurinol for a year,” the FDA said. “In addition, there were 26 deaths from any cause per 1,000 patients treated for a year with Uloric compared to 22 deaths per 1,000 patients treated for a year with allopurinol.”

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