Endogenous estrogens are largely responsible for the development and maintenance of the female reproductive system and secondary sexual characteristics. Although circulating estrogens exist in a dynamic equilibrium of metabolic interconversions, estradiol is the principal intracellular human estrogen and is substantially more potent than its metabolites estrone and estriol at the receptor level.
The primary source of estrogen in normally cycling adult women is the ovarian follicle, which secretes 70 to 500 mcg of estradiol daily, depending on the phase of the menstrual cycle. After menopause, most endogenous estrogen is produced by conversion of androstenedione, secreted by the adrenal cortex, to estrone by peripheral tissues. Thus, estrone and the sulfate conjugated form, estrone sulfate, are the most abundant circulating estrogens in postmenopausal women. The pharmacologic effects of ethinyl estradiol are similar to those of endogenous estrogens.
Estrogens act through binding to nuclear receptors in estrogen-responsive tissues. To date, two estrogen receptors have been identified. These vary in proportion from tissue to tissue.
Circulating estrogens modulate the pituitary secretion of the gonadotropins, luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) through a negative feedback mechanism. Estrogens act to reduce the elevated levels of these hormones seen in postmenopausal women.
Progestin compounds enhance cellular differentiation and generally oppose the actions of estrogens by decreasing estrogen receptor levels, increasing local metabolism of estrogens to less active metabolites, or inducing gene products that blunt cellular responses to estrogen. Progestins exert their effects in target cells by binding to specific progesterone receptors that interact with progesterone response elements in target genes. Progesterone receptors have been identified in the female reproductive tract, breast, pituitary, hypothalamus, bone, skeletal tissue and central nervous system. Progestins produce similar endometrial changes to those of the naturally occurring hormone progesterone.
Norethindrone acetate (NA) is completely and rapidly deacetylated to norethindrone after oral administration, and the disposition of norethindrone acetate is indistinguishable from that of orally administered norethindrone. Norethindrone acetate and ethinyl estradiol (EE) are rapidly absorbed from femhrt tablets, with maximum plasma concentrations of norethindrone and ethinyl estradiol generally occurring 1 to 2 hours postdose. Both are subject to first-pass metabolism after oral dosing, resulting in an absolute bioavailability of approximately 64% for norethindrone and 55% for ethinyl estradiol. Bioavailability of femhrt tablets is similar to that from solution for norethindrone and slightly less for ethinyl estradiol. Administration of femhrt tablets with a high fat meal decreases rate but not extent of ethinyl estradiol absorption. The extent of norethindrone absorption is increased by 27% following administration of femhrt tablets with food.
The full pharmacokinetic profile of femhrt tablets was not characterized due to assay sensitivity limitations. However, the multiple-dose pharmacokinetics were studied at a dose of 1 mg NA/10 mcg EE in 18 post-menopausal women. Mean plasma concentrations are shown below (Figure 1) and pharmacokinetic parameters are found in Table 1. Based on a population pharmacokinetic analysis, mean steady-state concentrations of norethindrone for 1 mg NA/5 mcg EE and 1/10 are slightly more than proportional to dose when compared to 0.5 mg NA/2.5 mcg EE tablets. It can be explained by higher sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) concentrations. Mean steady-state plasma concentrations of ethinyl estradiol for the femhrt 0.5/2.5 tablets and femhrt 1/5 tablets are proportional to dose, but there is a less than proportional increase in steady-state concentrations for the NA/EE 1/10 tablet.
Effect on Bone Mineral Density
In the 2 year study, trabecular bone mineral density (BMD) was assessed at lumbar spine using quantitative computed tomography. A total of 419 postmenopausal primarily Caucasian women, aged 40 to 64 years, with intact uteri and non-osteoporotic bone mineral densities were randomized (1:1:1) to femhrt 1/5, femhrt 0.5/2.5 or placebo. Approximately 75% of the subjects in each group completed the two-year study. All patients received 1000 mg calcium in divided doses. Vitamin D was not supplemented.
As shown in Figure 3, women treated with femhrt 1/5 had an average increase of 3.1% in lumbar spine BMD from baseline to Month 24. Women treated with femhrt 0.5/2.5 and placebo had average decreases of â€“0.8% and â€“6.3%, respectively, in spinal BMD from baseline to Month 24. The differences in the changes from baseline to Month 24 in the two femhrt groups compared with the placebo group were statistically significant.
*It should be noted that when measured by QCT, BMD gains and losses are greater than when measured by dual X-ray absorptiometry (DXA). Therefore, the differences in the changes in BMD between the placebo and active drug treated groups will be larger when measured by QCT compared with DXA. Changes in BMD measured by DXA should not be compared with changes in BMD measured by QCT.
Women's Health Initiative Studies
The Women's Health Initiative (WHI) enrolled a total of 27,000 predominantly healthy postmenopausal women to assess the risks and benefits of either the use of oral 0.625 mg conjugated estrogens (CE) per day alone or the use of oral 0.625 mg conjugated estrogens plus 2.5 mg medroxyprogesterone acetate (MPA) per day compared to placebo in the prevention of certain chronic diseases. The primary endpoint was the incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD) (nonfatal myocardial infarction and CHD death), with invasive breast cancer as the primary adverse outcome studied. A "global index" included the earliest occurrence of CHD, invasive breast cancer, stroke, pulmonary embolism (PE), endometrial cancer, colorectal cancer, hip fracture, or death due to other cause. The study did not evaluate the effects of CE or CE/MPA on menopausal symptoms.
The CE/MPA substudy was stopped early because, according to the predefined stopping rule, the increased risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular events exceeded the specified benefits included in the "global index". Results of the CE/MPA substudy, which included 16,608 women (average age of 63 years, range 50 to 79; 83.9% White, 6.5% Black, 5.5% Hispanic), after an average follow-up of 5.2 years are presented in Table 5 below:
RELATIVE AND ABSOLUTE RISK SEEN IN THE CE/MPA SUBSTUDY OF WHI
CE/MPA vs placebo
at 5.2 Years
(95% CI )
n = 8102
n = 8506
Absolute Risk per 10,000 Women-years
|Invasive breast cancer
|Death due to causes other than the events above
|Deep vein thrombosis
|Other osteoporotic fractures
For those outcomes included in the "global index", the absolute excess risks per 10,000 women-years in the group treated with CE/MPA were 7 more CHD events, 8 more strokes, 8 more PEs, and 8 more invasive breast cancers, while the absolute risk reductions per 10,000 women-years were 6 fewer colorectal cancers and 5 fewer hip fractures. The absolute excess risk of events included in the "global index" was 19 per 10,000 women-years. There was no difference between the groups in terms of all-cause mortality. (See
BOXED WARNING, WARNINGS, and
Women's Health Initiative Memory Study
The Women's Health Initiative Memory Study (WHIMS), a substudy of WHI, enrolled 4,532 predominantly healthy postmenopausal women 65 years of age and older (47% were age 65 to 69 years, 35% were 70 to 74 years, and 18% were 75 years of age and older) to evaluate the effects of CE/MPA (0.625 mg conjugated estrogens plus 2.5 mg medroxyprogesterone acetate) on the incidence of probable dementia (primary outcome) compared with placebo.
After an average follow-up of 4 years, 40 women in the estrogen/progestin group (45 per 10,000 women-years) and 21 in the placebo group (22 per 10,000 women-years) were diagnosed with probable dementia. The relative risk of probable dementia in the hormone therapy group was 2.05 (95% CI, 1.21 to 3.48) compared to placebo. Differences between groups became apparent in the first year of treatment. It is unknown whether these findings apply to younger postmenopausal women. (See