OBJECTIVE:

To determine the safety and pharmacokinetics of erythropoietin (Epo) given in conjunction with hypothermia for hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). We hypothesized that high dose Epo would produce plasma concentrations that are neuroprotective in animal studies (ie, maximum concentration = 6000–10 000 U/L; area under the curve = 117 000–140 000 U*h/L).

METHODS:

In this multicenter, open-label, dose-escalation, phase I study, we enrolled 24 newborns undergoing hypothermia for HIE. All patients had decreased consciousness and acidosis (pH < 7.00 or base deficit ≥ 12), 10-minute Apgar score ≤ 5, or ongoing resuscitation at 10 minutes. Patients received 1 of 4 Epo doses intravenously: 250 (N = 3), 500 (N = 6), 1000 (N = 7), or 2500 U/kg per dose (N = 8). We gave up to 6 doses every 48 hours starting at <24 hours of age and performed pharmacokinetic and safety analyses.

RESULTS:

Patients received mean 4.8 ± 1.2 Epo doses. Although Epo followed nonlinear pharmacokinetics, excessive accumulation did not occur during multiple dosing. At 500, 1000, and 2500 U/kg Epo, half-life was 7.2, 15.0, and 18.7 hours; maximum concentration was 7046, 13 780, and 33 316 U/L, and total Epo exposure (area under the curve) was 50 306, 131 054, and 328 002 U*h/L, respectively. Drug clearance at a given dose was slower than reported in uncooled preterm infants. No deaths or serious adverse effects were seen.

CONCLUSIONS:

Epo 1000 U/kg per dose intravenously given in conjunction with hypothermia is well tolerated and produces plasma concentrations that are neuroprotective in animals. A large efficacy trial is needed to determine whether Epo add-on therapy further improves outcome in infants undergoing hypothermia for HIE.

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