FDA Restricts Obeticholic Acid (Ocaliva) Over Serious Liver Injury Risk

Megan Brooks

May 26, 2021

The risk for serious liver injury with obeticholic acid (Ocaliva, Intercept Pharmaceuticals) has prompted the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to restrict its use in patients with primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) and advanced cirrhosis

The agency has added a new contraindication to the obeticholic acid prescribing information and patient medication guide stating that the drug should not be used in patients with PBC and advanced cirrhosis. 

The boxed warning on the label has also been revised to include this information.

For patients with PBC who do not have advanced cirrhosis, the FDA believes the benefits of Ocaliva outweigh the risks, based on the original clinical trials.

Five years ago, the FDA granted accelerated approval to obeticholic acid in combination with ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) in adults who fail to respond adequately to UDCA, or as a monotherapy in adults who cannot tolerate UDCA, as reported by Medscape Medical News.  

Since then, the FDA has identified 25 cases of serious liver injury leading to liver decompensation or liver failure in patients with PBC and cirrhosis who were taking obeticholic acid at recommended doses.

According to the FDA, 18 of the cases happened in patients with PBC and compensated cirrhosis who experienced liver injury that led to decompensation. Ten of these patients had evidence or suspicion of portal hypertension at baseline; in the other eight patients, it was unclear whether portal hypertension was present.

PBC was not expected to progress rapidly in these patients, yet they experienced accelerated clinical deterioration within months of starting obeticholic acid, the FDA said.

The median time to liver decompensation after initiating treatment was 4 months (range, 2 weeks to 10 months). Four patients with PBC and compensated cirrhosis needed a liver transplant within 1.3 years after starting obeticholic acid, and one patient died from liver failure.

The other seven cases of serious liver injury occurred in patients with PBC and decompensated cirrhosis, two of whom died. 

Although there was a temporal relationship between starting obeticholic acid and liver injury, it is difficult to distinguish a drug-induced effect from disease progression in the patients with advanced baseline liver disease, the FDA cautioned.

The median time to a new decompensation event after starting the drug was 2.5 months (range, 10 days to 8 months).

Before starting obeticholic acid, clinicians should determine whether a patient with PBC has advanced cirrhosis as the drug is now contraindicated in these patients, the FDA said.

During obeticholic acid treatment, patients should be routinely monitored for progression of PBC with laboratory and clinical assessments to determine whether the drug needs to be discontinued.

The medication should be permanently discontinued in patients with cirrhosis who progress to advanced cirrhosis.

Patients should also be monitored for clinically significant liver-related adverse reactions that may manifest as development of acute-on-chronic liver disease with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, jaundice, scleral icterus, and/or dark urine.

Obeticholic acid should be stopped permanently in any patient who develops these symptoms, the FDA advised.

Healthcare professionals are encouraged to report adverse events or side effects related to the use of obeticholic acid to MedWatch, FDA's adverse event reporting site.

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