Sickle cell anaemia (SCA) is associated with significant morbidity from acute complications and organ dysfunction beginning in the first year of life. In the first multicenter randomised double-blinded trial in very young children with SCA, the impact of hydroxyurea (hydroxycarbamide) therapy on organ dysfunction, clinical complications, and laboratory findings, and its toxicity, were examined.
Eligible subjects had HbSS or Sβ0thalassaemia, were age 9–18 months at randomisation, and were not selected for clinical severity. Subjects received liquid hydroxyurea, 20 mg/kg/day, or placebo for two years. Primary study endpoints were splenic function (qualitative uptake on 99Tc spleen scan) and renal function (glomerular filtration rate by 99mTc-DTPA clearance). Additional evaluations included: blood counts, HbF, chemistry profiles, spleen function biomarkers, urine osmolality, neurodevelopment, transcranial Doppler ultrasonography, growth, and mutagenicity. Study visits occurred every two to four weeks.
Ninety-six subjects received hydroxyurea and 97 placebo; 86% completed the study. Significant differences were not seen for the primary endpoints, but suggestive benefit was noted in quantitative measures of spleen function. Hydroxyurea significantly decreased pain and dactylitis with trends for decreased acute chest syndrome, hospitalisation and transfusion. Hydroxyurea increased haemoglobin and HbF and decreased WBC count. Toxicity was limited to mild-moderate neutropaenia.
Although hydroxyurea treatment did not reduce splenic and renal dysfunction assessed by primary endpoint measures, it resulted in major clinical benefit because of diminished acute complications, favorable haematologic results, and a lack of unexpected toxicities. Based on the safety and efficacy data from this trial, hydroxyurea can now be considered for all very young children with SCA.