Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy: Use of rituximab may be associated with an increased risk of Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy (PML). Very rare cases of fatal PML have been reported following use of rituximab. Patients must be monitored at regular intervals for any new or worsening neurological symptoms or signs that may be suggestive of PML. If PML is suspected, further dosing must be suspended until PML has been excluded. The clinician should evaluate the patient to determine if the symptoms are indicative of neurological dysfunction, and if so, whether these symptoms are possibly suggestive of PML. Consultation with a Neurologist should be considered as clinically indicated.
If any doubt exists, further evaluation, including MRI scan preferably with contrast, CSF testing for JC Viral DNA and repeat neurological assessments, should be considered.
The physician should be particularly alert to symptoms suggestive of PML that the patient may not notice (e.g. cognitive, neurological or psychiatric symptoms). Patients should also be advised to inform their partner or caregivers about their treatment, since they may notice symptoms that the patient is not aware of.
If a patient develops PML the dosing of rituximab must be permanently discontinued.
Following reconstitution of the immune system in immunocompromised patients with PML, stabilization or improved outcome has been seen. It remains unknown if early detection of PML and suspension of rituximab therapy may lead to similar stabilization or improved outcome.
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia: Infusion related reactions: Rituximab is associated with infusion related reactions, which may be related to release of cytokines and/or other chemical mediators. Cytokine release syndrome may be clinically indistinguishable from acute hypersensitivity reactions.
This set of reactions which includes syndrome of cytokine release, tumour lysis syndrome and anaphylactic and hypersensitivity reactions are described below. They are not specifically related to the route of administration of Rituximab and can be observed with both formulations.
Severe infusion related reactions with fatal outcome have been reported during post-marketing use of the rituximab intravenous formulation, with an onset ranging within 30 minutes to 2 hours after starting the first Rituximab IV infusion. They were characterized by pulmonary events and in some cases included rapid tumour lysis and features of tumour lysis syndrome in addition to fever, chills, rigors, hypotension, urticaria, angioedema and other symptoms.
Patients with a high tumour burden or with a high number (≥25 x 109/l) of circulating malignant cells such as patients with CLL, who may be at higher risk of especially severe cytokine release syndrome, should only be treated with extreme caution. These patients should be very closely monitored throughout the first infusion. Consideration should be given to the use of a reduced infusion rate for the first infusion in these patients or a split dosing over two days during the first cycle and any subsequent cycles if the lymphocyte count is still >25 x 109/L.
Severe cytokine release syndrome is characterized by severe dyspnea, often accompanied by bronchospasm and hypoxia, in addition to fever, chills, rigors, urticaria, and angioedema. This syndrome may be associated with some features of tumour lysis syndrome such as hyperuricaemia, hyperkalaemia, hypocalcaemia, hyperphosphaetemia, acute renal failure, elevated Lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) and may be associated with acute respiratory failure and death. Severe, including fatal, renal toxicity can occur after rituximab administered in patients with NHL. The acute respiratory failure may be accompanied by events such as pulmonary interstitial infiltration or oedema, visible on a chest x-ray. The syndrome frequently manifests itself within one or two hours of initiating the first infusion. Patients with a history of pulmonary insufficiency or those with pulmonary tumour infiltration may be at greater risk of poor outcome and should be treated with increased caution. Patients who develop severe cytokine release syndrome should have their infusion interrupted immediately (see Dosage & Administration) and should receive aggressive symptomatic treatment. Since initial improvement of clinical symptoms may be followed by deterioration, these patients should be closely monitored until tumour lysis syndrome and pulmonary infiltration have been resolved or ruled out. Further treatment of patients after complete resolution of signs and symptoms has rarely resulted in repeated severe cytokine release syndrome.
Infusion related adverse reactions of all kinds have been observed in 77% of patients treated with rituximab (including cytokine release syndrome accompanied by hypotension and bronchospasm in 10 % of patients) see Adverse Reactions. These symptoms are usually reversible with interruption of rituximab infusion and administration of an anti-pyretic, an antihistaminic, and, occasionally, oxygen, intravenous saline or bronchodilators, and glucocorticoids if required. Please see cytokine release syndrome above for severe reactions.
Anaphylactic and other hypersensitivity reactions have been reported following the intravenous administration of proteins to patients. In contrast to cytokine release syndrome, true hypersensitivity reactions typically occur within minutes after starting infusion. Medicinal products for the treatment of hypersensitivity reactions, e.g., epinephrine (adrenaline), antihistamines and glucocorticoids, should be available for immediate use in the event of an allergic reaction during administration of rituximab. Clinical manifestations of anaphylaxis may appear similar to clinical manifestations of the cytokine release syndrome (described in the previous text). Reactions attributed to hypersensitivity have been reported less frequently than those attributed to cytokine release.
Additional reactions reported in some cases were myocardial infarction, atrial fibrillation, pulmonary oedema and acute reversible thrombocytopenia.
Since hypotension may occur during rituximab infusion, consideration should be given to withholding anti-hypertensive medicines 12 hours prior to the rituximab infusion.
Cardiac disorders: Angina pectoris or cardiac arrhythmias such as atrial flutter and fibrillation heart failure and/or myocardial infarction have occurred in patients treated with rituximab. Therefore patients with a history of cardiac disease and/or cardiotoxic chemotherapy should be monitored closely.
Haematological toxicities: Although rituximab is not myelosuppressive in monotherapy, caution should be exercised when considering treatment of patients with neutrophils < 1.5 x 109/l and/or platelet counts < 75 x 109/l as clinical experience in this population is limited. Rituximab has been used in 21 patients who underwent autologous bone marrow transplantation and other risk groups with a presumable reduced bone marrow function without inducing myelotoxicity.
Regular full blood counts, including neutrophil and platelet counts, should be performed during rituximab therapy.
Infections: Serious infections, including fatalities, can occur during therapy with rituximab (see Adverse Reactions). Rituximab should not be administered to patients with an active, severe infection (e.g. tuberculosis, sepsis and opportunistic infections, see Contraindications).
Physicians should exercise caution when considering the use of rituximab in patients with a history of recurring or chronic infections or with underlying conditions which may further predispose patients to serious infection (see Adverse Reactions).
Cases of hepatitis B reactivation have been reported in subjects receiving rituximab including fulminant hepatitis with fatal outcome. The majority of these subjects were also exposed to cytotoxic chemotherapy. Limited information from one study in relapsed/refractory CLL patients suggests that rituximab treatment may also worsen the outcome of primary hepatitis B infections. Hepatitis B virus (HBV) screening should be performed in all patients before initiation of treatment with rituximab. At minimum this should include HBsAg-status and HBcAb-status. These can be complemented with other appropriate markers as per local guidelines. Patients with active hepatitis B disease should not be treated with rituximab. Patients with positive hepatitis B serology (either HBsAg or HBcAb) should consult liver disease experts before start of treatment and should be monitored and managed following local medical standards to prevent hepatitis B reactivation.
Very rare cases of Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy (PML) have been reported during post-marketing use of Rituximab in NHL and CLL (see Adverse Reactions). The majority of patients had received rituximab in combination with chemotherapy or as part of a hematopoietic stem cell transplant.
Immunizations: The safety of immunization with live viral vaccines, following rituximab therapy has not been studied for NHL and CLL patients and vaccination with live virus vaccines is not recommended. Patients treated with rituximab may receive non-live vaccinations. However with non-live vaccines response rates may be reduced. In a non-randomized study, patients with relapsed low-grade NHL who received rituximab monotherapy when compared to healthy untreated controls had a lower rate of response to vaccination with tetanus recall antigen (16% vs. 81%) and Keyhole Limpet Haemocyanin (KLH) neoantigen (4% vs. 69% when assessed for >2-fold increase in antibody titer). For CLL patients Similar results are assumable considering similarities between both diseases but that has not been investigated in clinical trials.
Mean pre-therapeutic antibody titers against a panel of antigens (Streptococcus pneumoniae, influenza A, mumps, rubella, varicella) were maintained for at least 6 months after treatment with rituximab.
Skin reactions: Severe skin reactions such as Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (Lyell's Syndrome) and Stevens - Johnson syndrome, some with fatal outcome, have been reported (see Adverse Reactions). In case of such an event, treatment should be permanently discontinued.
Rheumatoid arthritis: Methotrexate (MTX) naïve populations with Rheumatoid arthritis: The use of rituximab is not recommended in MTX-naïve patients since a favourable benefit risk relationship has not been established.
Infusion related reactions: Rituximab is associated with infusion related reactions (IRR), which may be related to release of cytokines and/or other chemical mediators. Premedication consisting of an analgesic/anti-pyretic drug and an anti-histaminic drug, should always be administered before each infusion of rituximab. In Rheumatoid arthritis premedication with glucocorticoids should also be administered before each infusion of rituximab in order to reduce the frequency and severity of infusion-related reactions. (see Adverse Reactions).
Severe infusion-related reactions with fatal outcome have been reported in Rheumatoid arthritis patients in the post-marketing setting. Most infusion events reported were mild to moderate in severity. The most common symptoms were allergic reactions like headache, pruritus, throat irritation, flushing, rash, urticaria, hypertension, and pyrexia. In general, the proportion of patients experiencing any infusion reaction was higher following the first infusion than following the second infusion of any treatment course. The incidence of IRR decreased with subsequent courses (see Adverse Reactions). The reactions reported were usually reversible with a reduction in rate, or interruption, of rituximab infusion and administration of an anti-pyretic, an antihistamine, and, occasionally, oxygen, intravenous saline or bronchodilators, and glucocorticoids if required. Closely monitor patients with pre-existing cardiac conditions and those who experienced prior cardiopulmonary adverse reactions. Depending on the severity of the infusion-related reaction and the required interventions, temporarily or permanently discontinue rituximab. In most cases, the infusion can be resumed at a 50 % reduction in rate (e.g. from 100 mg/h to 50 mg/h) when symptoms have completely resolved.
Medicinal products for the treatment of hypersensitivity reactions, e.g., epinephrine (adrenaline), antihistamines and glucocorticoids, should be available for immediate use in the event of an allergic reaction during administration of rituximab. The presence of HACA may be associated with worsening of infusion or allergic reactions after the second infusion of subsequent courses.
There are no data on the safety of rituximab in patients with moderate heart failure (NYHA class III) or severe, uncontrolled cardiovascular disease. In patients treated with rituximab, the occurrence of pre-existing ischemic cardiac conditions becoming symptomatic, such as angina pectoris, has been observed, as well as atrial fibrillation and flutter. Therefore, in patients with a known cardiac history, the risk of cardiovascular complications resulting from infusion reactions should be considered before treatment with Rituximab and patients closely monitored during administration. Since hypotension may occur during rituximab infusion, consideration should be given to withholding anti-hypertensive medications 12 hours prior to the rituximab infusion.
Cardiac disorders: Angina pectoris, cardiac arrhythmias such as atrial flutter and fibrillation, heart failure and/or myocardial infarction have occurred in patients treated with rituximab. Therefore patients with a history of cardiac disease should be monitored closely (see Infusion related reactions in the previous text).
Infections: Based on the mechanism of action of rituximab and the knowledge that B cells play an important role in maintaining normal immune response, patients have an increased risk of infection following rituximab therapy. Serious infections, including fatalities, can occur during therapy with rituximab (see Adverse Reactions). Rituximab should not be administered to patients with an active, severe infection (e.g. tuberculosis, sepsis and opportunistic infections, see Contraindications) or severely immunocompromised patients (e.g. where levels of CD4 or CD8 are very low). Physicians should exercise caution when considering the use of rituximab in patients with a history of recurring or chronic infections or with underlying conditions which may further predispose patients to serious infection, e.g. hypogammaglobulinaemia (see Adverse Reactions). It is recommended that immunoglobulin levels are determined prior to initiating treatment with rituximab.
Patients reporting signs and symptoms of infection following rituximab therapy should be promptly evaluated and treated appropriately. Before giving a subsequent course of rituximab treatment, patients should be re-evaluated for any potential risk for infections.
Very rare cases of Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy (PML) have been reported following use of rituximab for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune diseases including Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) and Vasculitis. These cases involved patients with multiple risk factors for PML, including the underlying disease and long-term immunosuppressive therapy or chemotherapy.
Hepatitis B Infections: Cases of hepatitis B reactivation, including those with a fatal outcome, have been reported in rheumatoid arthritis.
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) screening should be performed in all patients before initiation of treatment with rituximab. At minimum this should include HBsAg-status and HBcAb-status. These can be complemented with other appropriate markers as per local guidelines. Patients with active hepatitis B disease should not be treated with rituximab. Patients with positive hepatitis B serology (either HBsAg or HBcAb) should consult liver disease experts before start of treatment and should be monitored and managed following local medical standards to prevent hepatitis B reactivation.
Late neutropenia: Measure blood neutrophils prior to each course of rituximab, and regularly up to 6-months after cessation of treatment, and upon signs or symptoms of infection (see Adverse Reactions).
Skin reactions: Severe skin reactions such as Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (Lyell's Syndrome) and Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, some with fatal outcome, have been reported (see Adverse Reactions). In case of such an event, treatment should be permanently discontinued.
Immunization: Physicians should review the patient's vaccination status and follow current immunization guidelines prior to rituximab therapy. Vaccination should be completed at least 4 weeks prior to first administration of rituximab.
The safety of immunization with live viral vaccines following rituximab therapy has not been studied. Therefore vaccination with live virus vaccines is not recommended whilst on rituximab or whilst peripherally B cell depleted.
Patients treated with rituximab may receive non-live vaccinations. However, response rates to non-live vaccines may be reduced. In a randomized study, patients with RA treated with rituximab and methotrexate had comparable response rates to tetanus recall antigen (39% vs. 42%), reduced rates to pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (43% vs. 82% to at least 2 pneumococcal antibody serotypes), and KLH neoantigen (47% vs. 93%), when given 6 months after rituximab as compared to patients only receiving methotrexate. Should non-live vaccinations be required whilst receiving rituximab therapy, these should be completed at least 4 weeks prior to commencing the next course of rituximab.
In the overall experience of rituximab repeat treatment over one year in rheumatoid arthritis, the proportions of patients with positive antibody titers against S. pneumoniae, influenza, mumps, rubella, varicella and tetanus toxic were generally similar to the proportions at baseline.
Concomitant/sequential use of other DMARDs: The concomitant use of rituximab and anti-rheumatic therapies other than those specified under the rheumatoid arthritis indication and posology is not recommended.
There are limited data from clinical trials to fully assess the safety of the sequential use of other DMARDs (including TNF inhibitors and other biologics) following rituximab (see Interactions). The available data indicate that the rate of clinically relevant infection is unchanged when such therapies are used in patients previously treated with rituximab, however patients should be closely observed for signs of infection if biologic agents and/or DMARDs are used following rituximab therapy.
Malignancy: Immunomodulatory drugs may increase the risk of malignancy. On the basis of limited experience with rituximab in rheumatoid arthritis patients (see Adverse Reactions) a possible risk for the development of solid tumours cannot be excluded at this time, although present data do not seem to suggest any increased risk.
Effects on ability to drive and use machines: No studies on the effects of rituximab on the ability to drive and use machines have been performed, although the pharmacological activity and adverse reactions reported to date suggest that rituximab would have no or negligible influence on the ability to drive and use machines.