Mechanism of Action

Azacitidine is believed to exert its antineoplastic effects by multiple mechanisms including cytotoxicity on abnormal haematopoietic cells in the bone marrow and hypomethylation of DNA. The cytotoxic effects of azacitidine may result from multiple mechanisms, including inhibition of DNA, RNA and protein synthesis, incorporation into RNA and DNA, and activation of DNA damage pathways. Non-proliferating cells are relatively insensitive to azacitidine. Incorporation of azacitidine into DNA results in the inactivation of DNA methyltransferases, leading to hypomethylation of DNA.

Pharmacodynamic Properties

DNA hypomethylation of aberrantly methylated genes involved in normal cell cycle regulation, differentiation and death pathways may result in gene re-expression and restoration of cancer-suppressing functions to cancer cells. The relative importance of DNA hypomethylation versus cytotoxicity or other activities of azacitidine to clinical outcomes has not been established.

Pharmacokinetic Properties


Following subcutaneous administration of a single 75 mg/m² dose, azacitidine was rapidly absorbed with peak plasma concentrations of 750 ± 403 ng/mL occurring at 0.5 h after dosing (the first sampling point). The absolute bioavailability of azacitidine after subcutaneous relative to intravenous administration (single 75 mg/m² doses) was approximately 89% based on area under the curve (AUC).

Area under the curve and maximum plasma concentration (Cmax) of subcutaneous admiminstration of azacitidine were approximately proportional within the 25 to 100 mg/m² dose range.


Following intravenous administration, the mean volume of distribution was 76 ± 26 L, and systemic clearance was 147 ± 47 L/h.


Based on in vitro data, azacitidine metabolism does not appear to be mediated by cytochrome P450 isoenzymes (CYPs), UDP-glucuronosyltransferases (UGTs), sulfotransferases (SULTs), and glutathione transferases (GSTs).

Azacitidine undergoes spontaneous hydrolysis and deamination mediated by cytidine deaminase. In human liver S9 fractions, formation of metabolites was independent of NADPH implying that azacitidine metabolism was not mediated by cytochrome P450 isoenzymes. An in vitro study of azacitidine with cultured human hepatocytes indicates that at concentrations of 1.0 μM to 100 μM (i.e. up to approximately 30-fold higher than clinically achievable concentrations), azacitidine does not induce CYP 1A2, 2C19, or 3A4 or 3A5. In studies to assess inhibition of a series of P450 isoenzymes (CYP 1A2, 2B6, 2C8, 2C9, 2C19, 2D6, 2E1 and 3A4) azacitidine up to 100 μM did not produce inhibition. Therefore, CYP enzyme induction or inhibition by azacitidine at clinically achievable plasma concentrations is unlikely.


Azacitidine is cleared rapidly from plasma with a mean elimination half-life (t1⁄2) after subcutaneous administration of 41 ± 8 minutes. No accumulation occurs after subcutaneous administration of 75 mg/m² azacitidine once daily for 7 days. Urinary excretion is the primary route of elimination of azacitidine and/or its metabolites. Following intravenous and subcutaneous administration of 14 C-azacitidine, 85 and 50 % of the administered radioactivity was recovered in urine respectively, while <1% was recovered in faeces.

Special populations

The effects of hepatic impairment, gender, age, or race on the pharmacokinetics of azacitidine have not been formally studied.

Renal impairment

Renal impairment has no major effect on the pharmacokinetic exposure of azacitidine after single and multiple subcutaneous administrations. Following subcutaneous administration of a single 75 mg/m² dose, mean exposure values (AUC and Cmax) from subjects with mild, moderate and severe renal impairment were increased by 11-21%, 15-27%, and 41-66%, respectively, compared to normal renal function subjects. However, exposure was within the same general range of exposures observed for subjects with normal renal function. Azacitidine can be administered to patients with renal impairment without initial dose adjustment provided these patients are monitored for toxicity since azacitidine and/or its metabolites are primarily excreted by the kidney.


The effect of known cytidine deaminase polymorphisms on azacitidine metabolism has not been formally investigated.

Preclinical Safety Data

Azacitidine induces both gene mutations and chromosomal aberrations in bacterial and mammalian cell systems in vitro. The potential carcinogenicity of azacitidine was evaluated in mice and rats. Azacitidine induced tumours of the haematopoietic system in female mice, when administered intraperitoneally 3 times per week for 52 weeks. An increased incidence of tumours in the lymphoreticular system, lung, mammary gland, and skin was seen in mice treated with azacitidine administered intraperitoneally for 50 weeks. A tumorigenicity study in rats revealed an increased incidence of testicular tumours.

Early embryotoxicity studies in mice revealed a 44% frequency of intrauterine embryonal death (increased resorption) after a single intraperitoneal injection of azacitidine during organogenesis. Developmental abnormalities in the brain have been detected in mice given azacitidine on or before closure of the hard palate. In rats, azacitidine caused no adverse reactions when given pre- implantation, but it was clearly embryotoxic when given during organogenesis. Foetal abnormalities during organogenesis in rats included: CNS anomalies (exencephaly/encephalocele), limb anomalies (micromelia, club foot, syndactyly, oligodactyly) and others (microphthalmia, micrognathia, gastroschisis, oedema, and rib abnormalities).

Administration of azacitidine to male mice prior to mating with untreated female mice resulted in decreased fertility and loss of offspring during subsequent embryonic and postnatal development. Treatment of male rats resulted in decreased weight of the testes and epididymides, decreased sperm counts, decreased pregnancy rates, an increase in abnormal embryos and increased loss of embryos in mated females.

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