Pharmacokinetics of hydroxyurea therapy in African children with sickle cell anemia: a NOHARM ancillary PK study

Document Type



Paediatrics and Child Health (East Africa)


Background: Hydroxyurea is an important disease-modifying therapy for sickle cell anemia (SCA). Through induction of fetal hemoglobin and other mechanisms, hydroxyurea reduces the number and severity of vaso-occlusive painful crises and episodes of acute chest syndrome, while also lowering the frequency of transfusions and hospitalizations, and even reducing mortality. In the US, hydroxyurea is recommended widely for both children and adults with SCA, although variation in treatment response is well-recognized. In sub-Saharan Africa, which has the greatest global burden of SCA, hydroxyurea is not used widely, due in part to a lack of data regarding its safety and efficacy. Pharmacokinetics (PK) analysis of hydroxyurea has also not been performed to date in Africa, but would provide important data regarding the variable responses to hydroxyurea treatment in low-resource settings.

Objectives. There were three main goals of the NOHARM Ancillary PK Study: (1) to evaluate the feasibility of hydroxyurea sparse sampling PK collection and analysis in a low-resource clinical setting; (2) to determine the PK parameters for a cohort of young African children with SCA receiving hydroxyurea at an average oral daily dose of 20 mg/kg; and (3) to compare the PK parameters of African children collected and analyzed in the NOHARM trial with those of US children with SCA from the earlier HUSTLE study that included African-American children with SCA.

Methods: NOHARM (NCT01976416) is a prospective, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blinded phase 3 trial that is investigating the effects of hydroxyurea on the incidence and severity of malaria in very young children living in Uganda with SCA. After a year of blinded treatment, all participants were offered open-label hydroxyurea at an average oral daily dose of 20 ± 2.5 mg/kg, using either a 5-day or 7-day per week treatment regimen. After written informed consent for the ancillary PK study, hydroxyurea analysis was performed using a published sparse-sampling technique based on Bayesian estimation with collections pre-dose and then at T=15 minutes, 60 minutes, and 180 minutes. These four timed finger-prick sample collections over 3 hours used a volumetric absorptive microsampling device that collects exact 10 uL aliquots. All samples were stored at -80°C until analysis of hydroxyurea by LC-MS/MS (ug/mL) using a stable isotope internal standard, performed at Cincinnati Children's Hospital. Population PK analysis was performed using nonlinear mixed effect modeling (NONMEM 7.2). Allometric scaling was used to correct for differences in size.

Results: A total of 100 children were enrolled in the NOHARM ancillary PK study (average age 3.8 ± 0.9 years; 55 males), and 98 of these children had three evaluable post-dose samples. Individual PK profiles were best described by a one-compartment model with first order absorption. The dose-normalized hydroxyurea concentrations in NOHARM were comparable between the 5-day and 7-day dosing regimens and similar to published HUSTLE data for 96 children, except for higher T=180 hydroxyurea concentrations and overall higher hydroxyurea exposure in the NOHARM cohort. The higher blood hydroxyurea concentrations were the result of reduced drug clearance in NOHARM, possibly influenced by younger age. Population PK parameter estimates of oral clearance in the NOHARM and HUSTLE cohorts were 9.8 L/h/70kg versus 12.9 L/h/70kg, respectively (p<0.01).

Conclusions: The NOHARM PK study demonstrates the feasibility of collecting timed samples for analysis of hydroxyurea exposure, even in the low-resource setting of Uganda. Using a sparse sampling technique, young children with SCA had individual PK parameters calculated and a population PK model established. The oral drug clearance was lower in NOHARM than HUSTLE, with resulting higher hydroxyurea exposure, perhaps reflecting differences in age, nutrition, glomerular filtration, and genetic modifiers that warrant further investigation.


This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University.

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