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Letairis (Ambrisentan) - Description and Clinical Pharmacology



Letairis is the brand name for ambrisentan, an endothelin receptor antagonist that is selective for the endothelin type-A (ETA) receptor. The chemical name of ambrisentan is (+)-(2S)-2-[(4,6-dimethylpyrimidin-2-yl)oxy]-3-methoxy-3,3-diphenylpropanoic acid. It has a molecular formula of C22H22N2O4 and a molecular weight of 378.42. It contains a single chiral center determined to be the (S) configuration and has the following structural formula:

Figure 1 Ambrisentan Structural Formula

Ambrisentan is a white to off-white, crystalline solid. It is a carboxylic acid with a pKa of 4.0. Ambrisentan is practically insoluble in water and in aqueous solutions at low pH. Solubility increases in aqueous solutions at higher pH. In the solid state ambrisentan is very stable, is not hygroscopic, and is not light sensitive.

Letairis is available as 5 mg and 10 mg film-coated tablets for once daily oral administration. The tablets include the following inactive ingredients: croscarmellose sodium, lactose monohydrate, magnesium stearate and microcrystalline cellulose. The tablets are film-coated with a coating material containing FD&C Red #40 aluminum lake, lecithin, polyethylene glycol, polyvinyl alcohol, talc, and titanium dioxide. Each square, pale pink Letairis tablet contains 5 mg of ambrisentan. Each oval, deep pink Letairis tablet contains 10 mg of ambrisentan. Letairis tablets are unscored.


Mechanism of Action

Endothelin-1 (ET-1) is a potent autocrine and paracrine peptide. Two receptor subtypes, ETA and ETB, mediate the effects of ET-1 in the vascular smooth muscle and endothelium. The primary actions of ETA are vasoconstriction and cell proliferation, while the predominant actions of ETB are vasodilation, antiproliferation, and ET-1 clearance.

In patients with PAH, plasma ET-1 concentrations are increased as much as 10-fold and correlate with increased mean right atrial pressure and disease severity. ET-1 and ET-1 mRNA concentrations are increased as much as 9-fold in the lung tissue of patients with PAH, primarily in the endothelium of pulmonary arteries. These findings suggest that ET-1 may play a critical role in the pathogenesis and progression of PAH.

Ambrisentan is a high-affinity (Ki=0.011 nM) ETA receptor antagonist with a high selectivity for the ETA versus ETB receptor (>4000-fold). The clinical impact of high selectivity for ETA is not known.


Cardiac Electrophysiology

In a randomized, positive- and placebo-controlled, parallel-group study, healthy subjects received either Letairis 10 mg daily followed by a single dose of 40 mg, placebo followed by a single dose of moxifloxacin 400 mg, or placebo alone. Letairis 10 mg daily had no significant effect on the QTc interval. The 40 mg dose of Letairis increased mean QTc at tmax by 5 ms with an upper 95% confidence limit of 9 ms. For patients receiving Letairis 5–10 mg daily and not taking metabolic inhibitors, no significant QT prolongation is expected.


The pharmacokinetics of ambrisentan (S-ambrisentan) in healthy subjects is dose proportional. The absolute bioavailability of ambrisentan is not known. Ambrisentan is absorbed with peak concentrations occurring approximately 2 hours after oral administration in healthy subjects and PAH patients. Food does not affect its bioavailability. In vitro studies indicate that ambrisentan is a substrate of P-gp. Ambrisentan is highly bound to plasma proteins (99%). The elimination of ambrisentan is predominantly by non-renal pathways, but the relative contributions of metabolism and biliary elimination have not been well characterized. In plasma, the AUC of 4-hydroxymethyl ambrisentan accounts for approximately 4% relative to parent ambrisentan AUC. The in vivo inversion of S-ambrisentan to R-ambrisentan is negligible. The mean oral clearance of ambrisentan is 38 mL/min and 19 mL/min in healthy subjects and in PAH patients, respectively. Although ambrisentan has a 15-hour terminal half-life, the mean trough concentration of ambrisentan at steady-state is about 15% of the mean peak concentration and the accumulation factor is about 1.2 after long-term daily dosing, indicating that the effective half-life of ambrisentan is about 9 hours.

Drug Interactions

In Vitro Studies

Studies with human liver tissue indicate that ambrisentan is metabolized by CYP3A, CYP2C19, and uridine 5'-diphosphate glucuronosyltransferases (UGTs) 1A9S, 2B7S, and 1A3S. In vitro studies suggest that ambrisentan is a substrate of the Organic Anion Transporting Polypeptides OATP1B1 and OATP1B3, and P-glycoprotein (P-gp). Drug interactions might be expected because of these factors; however, a clinically relevant interaction has been demonstrated only with cyclosporine [see Drug Interactions (7) ]. In vitro studies found ambrisentan to have little to no inhibition of human hepatic transporters. Ambrisentan demonstrated weak dose-dependent inhibition of OATP1B1, OATP1B3, and NTCP (IC50 of 47 µM, 45 µM, and approximately 100 µM, respectively) and no transporter-specific inhibition of BSEP, BRCP, P-gp, or MRP2. Ambrisentan does not inhibit or induce drug metabolizing enzymes at clinically relevant concentrations.

In Vivo Studies

The effects of other drugs on ambrisentan pharmacokinetics and the effects of ambrisentan on the exposure to other drugs are shown in Figure 2 and Figure 3, respectively.

Figure 2 Effects of Other Drugs on Ambrisentan Pharmacokinetics

* Omeprazole: based on population pharmacokinetic analysis in PAH patients

** Rifampin: AUC and Cmax were measured at steady-state. On Day 3 of coadministration a transient 2-fold increase in AUC was noted that was no longer evident by Day 7. Day 7 results are presented.

Figure 3 Effects of Ambrisentan on Other Drugs

* Active metabolite of mycophenolate mofetil

** GMR (95% CI) for INR


Carcinogenesis, Mutagenesis, Impairment of Fertility

Oral carcinogenicity studies of up to two years duration were conducted at starting doses of 10, 30, and 60 mg/kg/day in rats (8 to 48 times the maximum recommended human dose [MRHD] on a mg/m2 basis) and at 50, 150, and 250 mg/kg/day in mice (28 to 140 times the MRHD). In the rat study, the high- and mid-dose male and female groups had their doses lowered to 40 and 20 mg/kg/day, respectively, in week 51 because of effects on survival. The high-dose males and females were taken off drug completely in weeks 69 and 93, respectively. The only evidence of ambrisentan-related carcinogenicity was a positive trend in male rats, for the combined incidence of benign basal cell tumor and basal cell carcinoma of skin/subcutis in the mid-dose group (high-dose group excluded from analysis), and the occurrence of mammary fibroadenomas in males in the high-dose group. In the mouse study, high-dose male and female groups had their doses lowered to 150 mg/kg/day in week 39 and were taken off drug completely in week 96 (males) or week 76 (females). In mice, ambrisentan was not associated with excess tumors in any dosed group.

Positive findings of clastogenicity were detected, at drug concentrations producing moderate to high toxicity, in the chromosome aberration assay in cultured human lymphocytes. There was no evidence for genetic toxicity of ambrisentan when tested in vitro in bacteria (Ames test) or in vivo in rats (micronucleus assay, unscheduled DNA synthesis assay).

The development of testicular tubular atrophy and impaired fertility has been linked to the chronic administration of endothelin receptor antagonists in rodents. Testicular tubular degeneration was observed in rats treated with ambrisentan for two years at doses ≥10 mg/kg/day (8-fold MRHD). Increased incidences of testicular findings were also observed in mice treated for two years at doses ≥50 mg/kg/day (28-fold MRHD). Effects on sperm count, sperm morphology, mating performance, and fertility were observed in fertility studies in which male rats were treated with ambrisentan at oral doses of 300 mg/kg/day (236-fold MRHD). At doses of ≥10 mg/kg/day, observations of testicular histopathology in the absence of fertility and sperm effects were also present.


Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension (PAH)

Two 12-week, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicenter studies were conducted in 393 patients with PAH (WHO Group 1). The two studies were identical in design except for the doses of Letairis and the geographic region of the investigational sites. ARIES-1 compared once-daily doses of 5 mg and 10 mg Letairis to placebo, while ARIES-2 compared once-daily doses of 2.5 mg and 5 mg Letairis to placebo. In both studies, Letairis or placebo was added to current therapy, which could have included a combination of anticoagulants, diuretics, calcium channel blockers, or digoxin, but not epoprostenol, treprostinil, iloprost, bosentan, or sildenafil. The primary study endpoint was 6-minute walk distance. In addition, clinical worsening, WHO functional class, dyspnea, and SF-36® Health Survey were assessed.

Patients had idiopathic or heritable PAH (64%) or PAH associated with connective tissue diseases (32%), HIV infection (3%), or anorexigen use (1%). There were no patients with PAH associated with congenital heart disease.

Patients had WHO functional class I (2%), II (38%), III (55%), or IV (5%) symptoms at baseline. The mean age of patients was 50 years, 79% of patients were female, and 77% were Caucasian.

Submaximal Exercise Ability

Results of the 6-minute walk distance at 12 weeks for the ARIES-1 and ARIES-2 studies are shown in Table 2 and Figure 4.

Table 2 Changes from Baseline in 6-Minute Walk Distance (meters)
(N = 67)
5 mg
(N = 67)
10 mg
(N = 67)
(N = 65)
2.5 mg
(N = 64)
5 mg
(N = 63)
Mean ± standard deviation
Baseline 342 ± 73 340 ± 77 342 ± 78 343 ± 86 347 ± 84 355 ± 84
Mean change from baseline -8 ± 79 23 ± 83 44 ± 63 -10 ± 94 22 ± 83 49 ± 75
Placebo-adjusted mean change from baseline 31 51 32 59
Placebo-adjusted median change from baseline 27 39 30 45
p-valuep-values are Wilcoxon rank sum test comparisons of Letairis to placebo at Week 12 stratified by idiopathic or heritable PAH and non-idiopathic, non-heritable PAH patients 0.008 <0.001 0.022 <0.001
Mean change from baseline in 6-minute walk distance in the placebo and Letairis groups
Values are expressed as mean ± standard error of the mean.
Figure 4 Mean Change in 6-Minute Walk Distance

In both studies, treatment with Letairis resulted in a significant improvement in 6-minute walk distance for each dose of Letairis and the improvements increased with dose. An increase in 6-minute walk distance was observed after 4 weeks of treatment with Letairis, with a dose-response observed after 12 weeks of treatment. Improvements in walk distance with Letairis were smaller for elderly patients (age ≥65) than younger patients and for patients with secondary PAH than for patients with idiopathic or heritable PAH. The results of such subgroup analyses must be interpreted cautiously.

The effects of Letairis on walk distances at trough drug levels are not known. Because only once-daily dosing was studied in the clinical trials, the efficacy and safety of more frequent dosing regimens for Letairis are not known. If exercise ability is not sustained throughout the day in a patient, consider other PAH treatments that have been studied with more-frequent dosing regimens.

Clinical Worsening

Time to clinical worsening of PAH was defined as the first occurrence of death, lung transplantation, hospitalization for PAH, atrial septostomy, study withdrawal due to the addition of other PAH therapeutic agents, or study withdrawal due to early escape. Early escape was defined as meeting two or more of the following criteria: a 20% decrease in the 6-minute walk distance; an increase in WHO functional class; worsening right ventricular failure; rapidly progressing cardiogenic, hepatic, or renal failure; or refractory systolic hypotension. The clinical worsening events during the 12-week treatment period of the Letairis clinical trials are shown in Table 3 and Figure 5.

Table 3 Time to Clinical Worsening
(N = 67)
(N = 134)
(N = 65)
(N = 127)
Intention-to-treat population
Note: Patients may have had more than one reason for clinical worsening.
Nominal p-values
Clinical worsening, no. (%) 7 (10%) 4 (3%) 13 (22%) 8 (6%)
Hazard ratio 0.28 0.30
p-value, Fisher exact test 0.044 0.006
p-value, Log-rank test 0.030 0.005

There was a significant delay in the time to clinical worsening for patients receiving Letairis compared to placebo. Results in subgroups such as the elderly were also favorable.

Time from randomization to clinical worsening with Kaplan-Meier estimates of the proportions of failures in ARIES-1 and ARIES-2.
p-values shown are the log-rank comparisons of Letairis to placebo stratified by idiopathic or heritable PAH and non-idiopathic, non-heritable PAH patients
Figure 5 Time to Clinical Worsening

Long-term Treatment of PAH

In long-term follow-up of patients who were treated with Letairis (2.5 mg, 5 mg, or 10 mg once daily) in the two pivotal studies and their open-label extension (N = 383), Kaplan-Meier estimates of survival at 1, 2, and 3 years were 93%, 85%, and 79%, respectively. Of the patients who remained on Letairis for up to 3 years, the majority received no other treatment for PAH. These uncontrolled observations do not allow comparison with a group not given Letairis and cannot be used to determine the long-term effect of Letairis on mortality.

Adverse Effects in Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF)

A randomized controlled study in patients with IPF, with or without pulmonary hypertension (WHO Group 3), compared Letairis (N = 329) to placebo (N = 163). The study was terminated after 34 weeks for lack of efficacy, and was found to demonstrate a greater risk of disease progression or death on Letairis. More patients taking Letairis died (8% vs. 4%), had a respiratory hospitalization (13% vs. 6%), and had a decrease in FVC/DLCO (17% vs. 12%) [see Contraindications].

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