Clarithromycin (Page 8 of 10)

12.4 Microbiology

Mechanism of Action

Clarithromycin exerts its antibacterial action by binding to the 50S ribosomal subunit of susceptible bacteria resulting in inhibition of protein synthesis.


The major routes of resistance are modification of the 23S rRNA in the 50S ribosomal subunit to insensitivity or drug efflux pumps. Beta-lactamase production should have no effect on clarithromycin activity.

Most isolates of methicillin-resistant and oxacillin-resistant staphylococci are resistant to clarithromycin.

If H. pylori is not eradicated after treatment with clarithromycin-containing combination regimens, patients may develop clarithromycin resistance in H. pylori isolates. Therefore, for patients who fail therapy, clarithromycin susceptibility testing should be done, if possible. Patients with clarithromycin-resistant H. pylori should not be treated with any of the following: omeprazole/clarithromycin dual therapy; omeprazole/clarithromycin/amoxicillin triple therapy; lansoprazole/clarithromycin/amoxicillin triple therapy; or other regimens which include clarithromycin as the sole antibacterial agent.

Antimicrobial Activity

Clarithromycin has been shown to be active against most of the isolates of the following microorganisms both in vitro and in clinical infections [see Indications and Usage ( 1)] .

Gram-Positive Bacteria

  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Streptococcus pyogenes

Gram-Negative Bacteria

  • Haemophilus influenzae
  • Haemophilus parainfluenzae
  • Moraxella catarrhalis

Other Microorganisms

  • Chlamydophila pneumoniae
  • Helicobacter pylori
  • Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) consisting of M . avium and M . intracellulare
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae

At least 90 percent of the microorganisms listed below exhibit in vitro minimum inhibitory concentrations (MICs) less than or equal to the clarithromycin susceptible MIC breakpoint for organisms of similar type to those shown in Table 11. However, the efficacy of clarithromycin in treating clinical infections due to these microorganisms has not been established in adequate and well-controlled clinical trials.

Gram-Positive Bacteria

  • Streptococcus agalactiae
  • Streptococci (Groups C, F, G)
  • Viridans group streptococci

Gram-Negative Bacteria

  • Legionella pneumophila
  • Pasteurella multocida

Anaerobic Bacteria

  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Peptococcus niger
  • Prevotella melaninogenica
  • Propionibacterium acnes

Susceptibility Testing

For specific information regarding susceptibility test interpretive criteria, and associated test methods and quality control standards recognized by FDA for this drug, please see:


13.1 Carcinogenesis, Mutagenesis, Impairment of Fertility


The following in vitro mutagenicity tests have been conducted with clarithromycin:

  • Salmonella /Mammalian Microsomes Test
  • Bacterial Induced Mutation Frequency Test
  • In Vitro Chromosome Aberration Test
  • Rat Hepatocyte DNA Synthesis Assay
  • Mouse Lymphoma Assay
  • Mouse Dominant Lethal Study
  • Mouse Micronucleus Test

All tests had negative results except the in vitro chromosome aberration test which was positive in one test and negative in another. In addition, a bacterial reverse-mutation test (Ames test) has been performed on clarithromycin metabolites with negative results.

Impairment of Fertility

Fertility and reproduction studies have shown that daily doses of up to 160 mg/kg/day to male and female rats caused no adverse effects on the estrous cycle, fertility, parturition, or number and viability of offspring. Plasma levels in rats after 150 mg/kg/day were twice the human serum levels.

Testicular atrophy occurred in rats at doses 7 times, in dogs at doses 3 times, and in monkeys at doses 8 times greater than the maximum human daily dose (on a body surface area basis).

13.2 Animal Toxicology and/or Pharmacology

Corneal opacity occurred in dogs at doses 12 times and in monkeys at doses 8 times greater than the maximum human daily dose (on a body surface area basis). Lymphoid depletion occurred in dogs at doses 3 times greater than and in monkeys at doses 2 times greater than the maximum human daily dose (on a body surface area basis).


14.1 Mycobacterial Infections

Prophylaxis of Mycobacterial Infections

A randomized, double-blind clinical trial (trial 3) compared clarithromycin 500 mg twice a day to placebo in patients with CDC-defined AIDS and CD 4 counts less than 100 cells/mcL. This trial accrued 682 patients from November 1992 to January 1994, with a median CD 4 cell count at entry of 30 cells/mcL. Median duration of clarithromycin tablets was 10.6 months vs. 8.2 months for placebo. More patients in the placebo arm than the clarithromycin arm discontinued prematurely from the trial (75.6 and 67.4%, respectively). However, if premature discontinuations due to Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC) or death are excluded, approximately equal percentages of patients on each arm (54.8%) on clarithromycin tablets and 52.5% on placebo) discontinued study drug early for other reasons. The trial was designed to evaluate the following endpoints:

  1. MAC bacteremia, defined as at least one positive culture for Myc obacterium avium complex bacteria from blood or another normally sterile site
  2. Survival
  3. Clinically significant disseminated MAC disease, defined as MAC bacteremia accompanied by signs or symptoms of serious MAC infection, including fever, night sweats, weight loss, anemia, or elevations in liver function tests

MAC Bacteremia

In patients randomized to clarithromycin, the risk of MAC bacteremia was reduced by 69% compared to placebo. The difference between groups was statistically significant (p < 0.001). On an intent- to-treat basis, the one-year cumulative incidence of MAC bacteremia was 5.0% for patients randomized to clarithromycin and 19.4% for patients randomized to placebo. While only 19 of the 341 patients randomized to clarithromycin developed MAC, 11 of these cases were resistant to clarithromycin. The patients with resistant MAC bacteremia had a median baseline CD 4 count of 10 cells/mm 3 (range 2 cells/mm 3 to 25 cells/mm 3). Information regarding the clinical course and response to treatment of the patients with resistant MAC bacteremia is limited. The 8 patients who received clarithromycin and developed susceptible MAC bacteremia had a median baseline CD 4 count of 25 cells/mm 3 (range 10 cells/mm 3 to 80 cells/mm 3). Comparatively, 53 of the 341 placebo patients developed MAC; none of these isolates were resistant to clarithromycin. The median baseline CD 4 count was 15 cells/mm 3 (range 2 cells/mm 3 to 130 cells/mm 3) for placebo patients that developed MAC.


A statistically significant survival benefit of clarithromycin compared to placebo was observed (see Figure 3 and Table 13). Since the analysis at 18 months includes patients no longer receiving prophylaxis the survival benefit of clarithromycin tablets may be underestimated.

(click image for full-size original)
Table 13. Mortality Rates at 18 months in Trial 3
Mortality Rates Reduction in Mortality Rates on Clarithromycin
Placebo Clarithromycin

6 month




12 month




18 month




Clinically Significant Disseminated MAC Disease

In association with the decreased incidence of MAC bacteremia, patients in the group randomized to clarithromycin showed reductions in the signs and symptoms of disseminated MAC disease, including fever, night sweats, weight loss, and anemia.

Treatment of Mycobacterial Infections

Dose-Ranging Monotherapy Trials in Adult AIDS Patients with MAC

Two randomized clinical trials (Trials 1 and 2) compared different dosages of clarithromycin in patients with CDC-defined AIDS and CD 4 counts less than100 cells/mcL. These trials accrued patients from May 1991 to March 1992. Trial 500 was a randomized, double-blind trial; trial 577 was an open-label compassionate use trial. Both trials used 500 mg and 1000 mg twice daily dosing of clarithromycin tablets; trial 1 also had a 2000 mg twice daily clarithromycin tablets group. Trial 1 enrolled 154 adult patients and trial 2 enrolled 469 adult patients. The majority of patients had CD 4 cell counts less than 50 cells/mcL at study entry. The trials were designed to evaluate the following end points:

  1. Change in MAC bacteremia or blood cultures negative for M . avium.
  2. Change in clinical signs and symptoms of MAC infection including one or more of the following: fever, night sweats, weight loss, diarrhea, splenomegaly, and hepatomegaly.

The results for trial 1 are described below. The trial 2 results were similar to the results of trial 1.

MAC Bacteremia

Decreases in MAC bacteremia or negative blood cultures were seen in the majority of patients in all clarithromycin dosage groups. The mean reductions in MAC colony forming units (CFU) from baseline after 4 weeks of therapy in the 1000 mg (n=32) twice daily and 2000 mg (n=26) twice daily regimen was 2.3 Log CFU compared to 1.5 Log CFU in the clarithromycin tablets 500 mg twice daily (n=35) regimen. A separate trial with a four-drug regimen 2 (ciprofloxacin, ethambutol, rifampicin, and clofazimine) had a mean reduction of 1.4 Log CFU.

Clinical outcomes evaluated with the different dosing regimens of clarithromycin monotherapy are shown in Table 14. The 1000 mg and 2000 mg twice daily doses showed significantly better control of bacteremia during the first four weeks of therapy. No significant differences were seen beyond that point. All of the isolates had MIC less than 8 mcg/mL at pre-treatment. Relapse was almost always accompanied by an increase in MIC.

Table 14. Outcome with the Different Dosing Regimens of Clarithromycin Tablets
Outcome Clarithromycin Tablets 500 mg twice daily Clarithromycin Tablets 1000 mg twice daily Clarithromycin Tablets 2000 mg twice daily

One or more negative blood cultures at any time during acute therapy

61% (30/49)

59% (29/49)

52% (25/48)

Two or more negative blood cultures during acute therapy sustained through study day 84

25% (12/49)

25% (12/49)

8% (4/48)

Death or discontinuation by day 84

23% (11/49)

37% (18/49)

56% (27/48)

Relapse by day 84

14% (7/49)

12% (6/49)

13% (6/48)

Median time to first negative culture (in days)




Median time to first decrease of at least 1 log CFU (in days)




Median time to first positive culture or study discontinuation following the first negative culture (in days)




Clinically Significant Disseminated MAC Disease

Among patients experiencing night sweats prior to therapy, 84% showed resolution or improvement at some point during the 12 weeks of clarithromycin tablets at 500 mg to 2000 mg twice daily doses. Similarly, 77% of patients reported resolution or improvement in fevers at some point. Response rates for clinical signs of MAC are given in Table 15 below.

The median duration of response, defined as improvement or resolution of clinical signs and symptoms, was 2 weeks to 6 weeks.

Since the trial was not designed to determine the benefit of monotherapy beyond 12 weeks, the duration of response may be underestimated for the 25 to 33% of patients who continued to show clinical response after 12 weeks.

Table 15. Response Rates for Clinical Signs of MAC During 6 Weeks to 12 Weeks of Treatment
Resolution of Fever Resolution of Night Sweats
Clarithromycin tablets twice daily dose (mg)% ever afebrile % afebrile 6 weeks or more Clarithromycin tablets twice daily dose (mg) % ever resolving % resolving 6 weeks or more



















Weight Gain Greater Than 3% Hemoglobin Increase Greater Than 1 gm
Clarithromycin tablets twice daily dose (mg) % ever gaining % gaining 6 weeks or more Clarithromycin tablets twice daily dose (mg) % ever increasing % increasing 6 weeks or more




















Median survival time from trial entry (trial 1) was 249 days at the 500 mg twice daily dose compared to 215 days with the 1000 mg twice daily dose. However, during the first 12 weeks of therapy, there were 2 deaths in 53 patients in the 500 mg twice daily group versus 13 deaths in 51 patients in the 1000 mg twice daily group. The reason for this apparent mortality difference is not known. Survival in the two groups was similar beyond 12 weeks. The median survival times for these dosages were similar to recent historical controls with MAC when treated with combination therapies. 2

Median survival time from entry in trial 2 was 199 days for the 500 mg twice a day dose and 179 days for the 1000 mg twice a day dose. During the first four weeks of therapy, while patients were maintained on their originally assigned dose, there were 11 deaths in 255 patients taking 500 mg twice daily and 18 deaths in 214 patients taking 1000 mg twice daily.

Dosage-Ranging Monotherapy Trials in Pediatric AIDS Patients with MAC

Trial 4 was a pediatric trial of 3.75 mg/kg, 7.5 mg/kg, and 15 mg/kg of clarithromycin tablets twice daily in patients with CDC-defined AIDS and CD 4 counts less than 100 cells/mcL. The trial enrolled 25 patients between the ages of 1 to 20. The trial evaluated the same endpoints as in the adult trials 1 and 2. Results with the 7.5 mg/kg twice daily dose in the pediatric trial were comparable to those for the 500 mg twice daily regimen in the adult trials.

Combination Therapy in AIDS Patients with Disseminated MAC

Trial 5 compared the safety and efficacy of clarithromycin tablets in combination with ethambutol versus clarithromycin tablets in combination with ethambutol and clofazimine for the treatment of disseminated MAC (dMAC) infection. This 24-week trial enrolled 106 patients with AIDS and dMAC, with 55 patients randomized to receive clarithromycin and ethambutol, and 51 patients randomized to receive clarithromycin, ethambutol, and clofazime. Baseline characteristics between treatment arms were similar with the exception of median CFU counts being at least 1 log higher in the clarithromycin, ethambutol, and clofazime arm.

Compared to prior experience with clarithromycin monotherapy, the two-drug regimen of clarithromycin and ethambutol extended the time to microbiologic relapse, largely through suppressing the emergence of clarithromycin resistant strains. However, the addition of clofazimine to the regimen added no additional microbiologic or clinical benefit. Tolerability of both multidrug regimens was comparable with the most common adverse events being gastrointestinal in nature. Patients receiving the clofazimine-containing regimen had reduced survival rates; however, their baseline mycobacterial colony counts were higher. The results of this trial support the addition of ethambutol to clarithromycin for the treatment of initial dMAC infections but do not support adding clofazimine as a third agent.

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