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Pediatric Off-Label and Unlicensed Drug Use and Its Implications

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Background: Worldwide, in the absence of standard pediatric prescribing information, clinicians often use medicines in children in a dosage form or for an indication that has not been approved for use. Inadequate clinical trials increase exposure to drugs that lack safety-efficacy data in pediatric population. Hence, off-label and unlicensed drug use must be regarded as a patient safety-issue that is known to be associated with increased risks of adverse drug reactions apart from under- or overdosing due to lack of pharmacokinetic data. This review aims to give an overview of the worldwide reported rates of off-label and unlicensed drug use in different patient populations in pediatric settings, with a brief summary of the related adverse drug reactions (ADRs) and a discussion of the existing regulatory provisions and possible solutions for ensuring safe use of medicines in children.

Method: Literature searches were conducted and we included studies that evaluated unlicensed or off-label drug use in various pediatric patient populations. The definition of off-label drug use and unlicensed drug varied between different studies.

Results: Fourteen studies from different countries were included in the review and were grouped as: studies conducted in the patients admitted in neonatal intensive care units, in pediatric wards, in hospitalized children and in pediatric outpatient settings. The number of patients studied ranged from 34 in neonatal intensive care units to 355 409 hospitalized children. Many studies reported high rates of off-label (9% to 78.7%) and unlicensed (0.3% to 35%) drug use in different pediatric patient settings.

Conclusion: Given the prevalence of unlicensed and off-label drug use, the cooperation of various stakeholders including health professionals, pediatric population and their parents/caregivers, regulatory authorities, and the pharmaceutical industry is integral to instituting individual measures to avoid exposing children to unnecessary risks and avoid depriving them of potentially effective pharmacotherapy. Initiatives to encourage clinical trials for licensing drug use in children by providing market exclusivity and patent extension could aid in bridging the gap between approval and contemporary drug prescribing practices. Enforcement of legislations in the drug development process and subsequent pharmacovigilance could improve the quality of information and accountability of pharmaceutical industry to support and facilitate drug research in children.

Keywords: Off label; adverse drug reactions; children; drug safety; neonates; off label drug use; pediatric; prescription

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2017

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  • Current Clinical Pharmacology publishes frontier reviews on all the latest advances in clinical pharmacology. The journal's aim is to publish the highest quality review articles in the field. Topics covered include: pharmacokinetics; therapeutic trials; adverse drug reactions; drug interactions; drug metabolism; pharmacoepidemiology; and drug development. The journal is essential reading for all researchers in clinical pharmacology.
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