FDA Alert: 'Substantial' Hypocalcemia Risk with Prolia Use in Dialysis Patients

Mitchel L. Zoler, PhD

November 22, 2022

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an alert today that cited preliminary evidence for a "substantial risk" for severe and symptomatic hypocalcemia and serious outcomes related to abnormally low calcium levels in people being treated with dialysis and receiving the osteoporosis medication denosumab (Prolia), including hospitalizations and death.

In its alert, the FDA advised clinicians to make sure that people on dialysis who receive Prolia ingest adequate calcium and vitamin D supplementation and undergo frequent blood calcium monitoring, "possibly more often than is already being conducted," which "may help decrease the likelihood or severity of these risks."

The agency also called on clinicians to "advise patients on dialysis to immediately seek help if they experience symptoms of hypocalcemia," such as unusual tingling or numbness in the hands, arms, legs, or feet; painful muscle spasms or cramps; voice box or lung spasms causing difficulty breathing; vomiting; seizures; or irregular heart rhythm.

The FDA had a similar message for people being treated with dialysis who are also receiving Prolia. The alert advised patients to watch for these symptoms and to tell their healthcare provider if they occur. The agency also advised patients who are undergoing dialysis and receiving Prolia to not stop the agent on their own, without first discussing this step with their care provider.

The FDA also advised providers and patients to contact the agency about episodes of side effects from Prolia (or other medications) via the FDA's MedWatch program.

Frequent and Serious

The FDA explained it issued the alert because of "the frequency and seriousness" of the risk for hypocalcemia and resulting complications. The agency noted that the risk seems most acute for people on dialysis who also receive Prolia, but the risk may also extend to people with advanced kidney disease who are not being treated with hemodialysis.

The alert stemmed from "interim results" in an ongoing safety study of Prolia that the FDA required the agent's manufacturer, Amgen, to run when the agency first approved denosumab for US marketing in 2010. The FDA said its review of these interim results suggested an increased risk of hypocalcemia with Prolia in patients with advanced kidney disease.

In addition, adverse event reports submitted to the FDA suggested in a separate, internal study that patients on dialysis treated with Prolia are at "substantial risk for severe and symptomatic hypocalcemia, including hospitalization and death."

The alert explained that "because of the frequency and seriousness of these risks, we are alerting healthcare professionals and patients about them and that we are continuing to evaluate this potential safety issue with Prolia use in patients with advanced kidney disease, particularly those on dialysis." The FDA added that "we will communicate our final conclusions and recommendations when we have completed our review or have more information to share."

Mitchel L. Zoler is a reporter with Medscape and MDedge based in the Philadelphia region. @mitchelzoler

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