english.prescrire.org > Spotlight > Archives : 2011 > Denosumab: limited efficacy in fracture prevention, too many adverse effects

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2011 : 1 | 30 | 60

Denosumab: limited efficacy in fracture prevention, too many adverse effects

FEATURED REVIEW In postmenopausal women with osteoporosis, denosumab is probably less effective than alendronic acid for fracture prevention. In contrast, denosumab increases the risk of cancer and infections. A trial of denosumab in men castrated for prostate cancer failed to show any preventive effect on symptomatic fractures, but highlighted the risk of adverse effects.
Full review (4 pages) available for download by subscribers.


  • The standard drug for postmenopausal osteoporotic women with a high risk of fracture is alendronic acid, used in conjunction with non-drug measures. There are no drugs with demonstrated efficacy on the risk of fracture in castrated men with prostate cancer.
  • Denosumab, a monoclonal antibody that inhibits a cytokine acting mainly on bone cells and lymphocytes, has been authorised in the European Union for use in both these settings.

  • There are no trials comparing denosumab versus alendronic acid for symptomatic fracture prevention. In two trials involving 1189 and 504 women, the incidence of clinical fractures, recorded as simple adverse effects, did not differ significantly between the groups.
  • In a placebo-controlled trial in about 7900 elderly osteoporotic women, denosumab significantly reduced the incidence of symptomatic vertebral fractures (0.8% versus 2.6% after 3 years) and hip fractures (0.7% versus 1.2%). An indirect comparison, providing weak evidence, suggests that denosumab is less effective than alendronic acid.
  • In a placebo-controlled trial in 1468 castrated men with prostate cancer, denosumab did not reduce the incidence of symptomatic fractures after 3 years. Only the incidence of vertebral fractures, detected on routine radiographs, showed a statistically significant decline (1.5% versus 3.5%).
  • Denosumab has numerous adverse effects. In placebo-controlled trials, this monoclonal antibody was associated with a higher incidence of deepseated infections such as endocarditis, cancer, and skin rash.
  • More data are needed on the risk of pancreatitis, long-term bone disorders (atypical fractures, delayed fracture healing, osteonecrosis of the jaw), hypocalcaemia and cataracts, all of which were reported in clinical trials.
  • In practice, denosumab is not sufficiently effective to outweigh its established and potential harms in postmenopausal osteoporotic women or in castrated men with prostate cancer. 

©Prescrire 1 June 2011

"Denosumab. Limited efficacy in fracture prevention, too many adverse effects" Prescrire Int 2011; 20 (117): 145-148. (Pdf, subscribers only)

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