Optimizing Efavirenz Dosing in Pediatrics: A Path Forward


Efavirenz is a non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor used to treat HIV. It works by blocking reverse transcriptase, an enzyme crucial for the HIV virus to replicate. Its effectiveness in reducing the viral load makes it a vital component of antiretroviral therapy (ART) regimens for children living with HIV. It is widely used worldwide and is included in the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines, highlighting its importance in treating HIV globally. However, optimizing efavirenz dose, particularly in pediatric patients, remains a challenge. Pharmacokinetic modeling is a powerful tool in the field of medicine, enabling researchers to predict drug concentrations in the body based on various factors such as genetics, age, and dosing regimens. In a new study published in the peer-reviewed Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics Journal by Dr. Xian Pan, Principal Scientist and Dr Karen Rowland Yeo, Senior Vice-President at Certara UK, Simcyp Division, discussed employing a physiologically-based pharmacokinetic (PBPK) model to simulate the plasma exposure of efavirenz in different patient populations taking into account genetic variations and age-related factors. PBPK models have gained prominence for their ability to provide insights into drug behavior, especially in complex scenarios involving multiple variables.

The authors considered in their PBPK models the genetic variation in the CYP2B6 gene, which plays an important role in efavirenz metabolism in the liver. Genetic polymorphisms in this gene can lead to variations in drug metabolism, affecting both drug efficacy and safety. The authors demonstrated that individuals with different CYP2B6 genotypes may require different efavirenz dosing regimens to achieve optimal therapeutic outcomes. Specifically, the CYP2B6 516GG genotype carriers appear to require higher doses to reach therapeutic drug levels, while CYP2B6 516TT genotype carriers may experience elevated drug concentrations with standard doses. These findings have important implications for dosing strategies in HIV-infected patients, especially children.

Treating pediatric HIV patients presents unique challenges. Children undergo rapid growth and development, leading to changes in drug metabolism over time. Therefore, it is crucial to adapt dosing regimens to their evolving physiological characteristics. The authors discussed these age-related factors and provided valuable insights into efavirenz dosing for children aged 3 months to 15 years. Current dosing guidelines for efavirenz in pediatric patients are primarily based on weight bands. However, the researchers suggested that these guidelines may not be optimized for all CYP2B6 genotypes. While the recommended doses are adequate for intermediate CYP2B6 metabolizers (CYP2B6 516GT), they may not be suitable for slow (CYP2B6 516TT) and extensive metabolizers (CYP2B6 516GG). To address these dosing challenges, Xian Pan and Karen Rowland Yeo proposed optimal doses for efavirenz in pediatric patients, taking into account both CYP2B6 genotype and weight. This approach aims to ensure that each genotype achieves therapeutic drug levels while minimizing the risk of adverse effects. By tailoring doses to individual patient characteristics, we can potentially enhance the safety and efficacy of efavirenz treatment in pediatric populations.

The findings from Xian Pan and Karen Rowland Yeo research have direct implications for clinical practice in the treatment of HIV-infected children. Estimating the optimized efavirenz dose based on CYP2B6 genotype and weight can lead to more personalized and effective HIV therapy. Clinicians can use the proposed method to make better informed decisions when prescribing efavirenz, considering the genetic makeup and age of their patients. Furthermore, the study highlights the importance of pharmacogenomics in modern medicine. Genetic testing to determine CYP2B6 genotype before initiating efavirenz therapy could become a standard practice. This approach aligns with the broader trend in personalized medicine, where treatment decisions are tailored to an individual’s genetic profile to optimize outcomes.

Additionally, the proposed optimal dosing strategy for efavirenz not only seeks to improve drug efficacy but also aims to minimize the risk of adverse effects. The study’s simulations indicate that the recommended doses for slow metabolizers (CYP2B6 516TT) can result in drug concentrations exceeding the therapeutic range. This underscores the importance of precise dosing to prevent toxicity. Conversely, extensive metabolizers (CYP2B6 516GG) may require higher doses to achieve therapeutic drug levels. The authors’ findings align with clinical observations of virological failure and central nervous system (CNS) toxicity in patients with low and high efavirenz concentrations, respectively. By tailoring doses to genotype, we can potentially reduce the incidence of such adverse events.

The authors also addressed the critical issue of efavirenz exposure in breastfeeding infants. Nursing mothers may pass the drug to their infants through breast milk, raising concerns about safety. Xian Pan and Karen Rowland Yeo estimated the infant daily dose (IDD) based on maternal CYP2B6 genotype. Fortunately, the IDD values for breastfeeding infants were found to be below the safety threshold, alleviating concerns about significant drug exposure through breastfeeding. The simulations of efavirenz plasma concentration-time profiles associated with composite maternal/infant CYP2B6 genotypes reinforce the safety of breastfeeding while on efavirenz therapy. The study’s ability to capture the range of clinically reported individual concentrations in breastfeeding infants provides confidence in these findings.

While this research represents a significant step forward in optimizing efavirenz dosing for pediatric patients, there is room for further investigation. The study acknowledges that the number of subjects with the CYP2B6 516TT genotype in the clinical data was small, warranting caution in generalizing the findings. More extensive studies with larger populations of slow metabolizers are necessary to validate the proposed dosing recommendations. Moreover, the study suggests that the scaling factors applied to correct for differences in allelic CYP2B6 activity, especially in CYP2B6 516TT carriers, require further investigation. Understanding the precise relationship between genotype and drug metabolism is essential to refine dosing recommendations further.

In a statement to Medicine Innovates, Dr. Rowland Yeo said: Many nursing mothers are required to take medication but may not do so because of the potential risk of transferring the drug to their breastfed infants. A number of factors need to be considered including the dose received via feeding and the exposure of the drug in the infant. Although the former can be estimated from the clinical study conducted in lactating mothers, it is not always possible to obtain plasma samples from their children. This is where PBPK modelling comes into play – this approach can be used to provide a best estimate of drug exposure in breastfed infants and help clinicians provide appropriate recommendations for maternal therapy.”

In conclusion, the findings of Xian Pan and Karen Rowland Yeo offer a promising path forward for optimizing efavirenz dosing in pediatric patients, including infants exposed through breastfeeding. By considering CYP2B6 genotype, weight, and age-related factors, clinicians can tailor dosing regimens to individual patients, enhancing both safety and efficacy. This personalized approach aligns with the principles of modern medicine, where treatment decisions are increasingly guided by genetic and physiological factors.

Optimizing Efavirenz Dosing in Pediatrics: A Path Forward - Medicine Innovates

About the author

Dr. Xian Pan is a Principal Scientist at Certara UK, Simcyp Division. She obtained her PhD in Biopharmaceutical Sciences from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Since joining Simcyp, she has made significant contributions to the development of adult and pediatric virtual populations, addressing both small molecules and therapeutic proteins. More recently, her scientific focus has been the application of PBPK models to improve dosing of both modalities in these special populations.

About the author

Dr Karen Rowland Yeo is a Senior Vice-President at Certara UK, Simcyp Division. Prior to joining Simcyp, Karen held a 5-year lectureship in the Department of Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics at the University of Sheffield. She received her BSc Honours degree in Physics at the University of Natal in South Africa in 1989 and her PhD in Drug Metabolism from the University of Sheffield in 1995. Her work has ranged across most therapeutic areas and has focused on the application of PBPK modelling in both drug development and global health settings for optimal dosing in virtual populations and assessment of drug-drug interactions.


Pan X, Rowland Yeo K. Physiologically Based Pharmacokinetic Modeling to Determine the Impact of CYP2B6 Genotype on Efavirenz Exposure in Children, Mothers and Breastfeeding Infants. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2023 ;114(1):182-191. doi: 10.1002/cpt.2912.

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