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BACKGROUND: Thalassaemia major is a genetic disease characterised by a reduced ability to produce haemoglobin. Management of the resulting anaemia is through transfusions of red blood cells. Repeated transfusions result in excessive accumulation of iron in the body (iron overload), removal of which is achieved through iron chelation therapy. A commonly used iron chelator, deferiprone, has been found to be pharmacologically efficacious. However, important questions exist about the efficacy and safety of deferiprone compared to another iron chelator, desferrioxamine. OBJECTIVES: To summarise data from trials on the clinical efficacy and safety of deferiprone and to compare the clinical efficacy and safety of deferiprone for thalassaemia with desferrioxamine. SEARCH STRATEGY: We searched the Group's Haemoglobinopathies Trials Register, MEDLINE, EMBASE, Biological Abstracts, ZETOC, Current Controlled Trials and bibliographies of relevant publications. We contacted the manufacturers of deferiprone and desferrioxamine. Most recent searches: June 2006. SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised controlled trials comparing deferiprone with another iron chelator; or comparing two schedules of deferiprone, in people with transfusion-dependent thalassaemia. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two authors independently assessed trial quality and extracted data. Missing data were requested from the original investigators. MAIN RESULTS: Ten trials involving 398 people (range 10 to 144 people) were included. Nine trials compared deferiprone with desferrioxamine or a combination of deferiprone and desferrioxamine and one compared different schedules of deferiprone. There was little consistency between outcomes and little information to fully assess the methodological quality of most of the included trials. No trial reported long-term outcomes (mortality and end organ damage). There was no consistent effect on reduction of iron overload between all treatment comparisons, with the exception of urinary iron excretion in comparisons of deferiprone with desferrioxamine. An increase in iron excretion levels favoured deferiprone in one trial and desferrioxamine in three trials, even though measurement of urinary iron excretion underestimates total iron excretion by desferrioxamine.Adverse events were recorded in trials comparing deferiprone with desferrioxamine. There was evidence of adverse events in all treatment groups. Adverse events in one trial were significantly more likely with deferiprone than desferrioxamine, relative risk 2.24 (95% confidence interval 1.19 to 4.23). AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: We found no reason to change current treatment recommendations, namely deferiprone is indicated for treating iron overload in people with thalassaemia major when desferrioxamine is contraindicated or inadequate. However, there is an urgent need for adequately-powered, high quality trials comparing the overall clinical efficacy and long-term outcome of deferiprone with desferrioxamine.

Original publication




Journal article


Cochrane Database Syst Rev

Publication Date



Chelation Therapy, Deferiprone, Deferoxamine, Humans, Iron Chelating Agents, Iron Overload, Pyridones, Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic, Thalassemia, Treatment Outcome