Epoetin beta is a genetically engineered form of a hormone that signals the human body to produce red blood cells. The medicine can have benefits for people who have problems producing red blood cells, as a result of a disease such as kidney failure or certain cancers. Epoetin beta is not a replacement for blood transfusions in most patients.
Healthy kidneys create erythropoietin, a hormone that moves to the bone marrow, promoting the production of red blood cells. Red blood cells are oxygen-carriers, and a low level of them in the bloodstream causes anemia. Research scientists discovered a way to make artificial erythropoietin to help patients who cannot make enough naturally.
Drug companies use cell cultures to produce epoetin beta. These cultures use cells that originally came from a hamster ovary. Each of these cells contains a foreign human gene that each cell reads as an instruction to produce a molecule that is very similar to human erythropoietin.
As well as epoetin beta, other pharmaceutical companies make epoetin alfa. These two almost identical molecules have the same effect, but have slightly different structures. Darbepoetin alfa is yet another artificial erythropoietin, with a longer life in the body than the other two versions.
People with kidney disease may not produce enough of the erythropoietin hormone and therefore can suffer from anemia. When a doctor injects epoetin beta, the patient begins growing more red blood cells which resolves the anemia. Certain cancer patients may also benefit from an injection of the medicine, such as people with bone marrow cancer or those who take chemotherapy that includes the element platinum.
Babies born early may also receive epoetin beta, as their circulatory system is not yet mature enough to prevent anemia. If a person gives blood, a doctor may inject some of the drug so the drawn blood contains more red blood cells. Apart from these situations, a patient who is at risk of anemia may be more suitable for a blood transfusion instead of an injection of epoetin beta.
Possible side effects of the medication include a risk of blood clots for cancer patients. The medicine can also cause a serious rise in blood pressure, and produce an abnormally high level of platelets in the circulatory system. As epoetin beta increases the number of cells in the blood, people with kidney problems may also have to take heparin to prevent blood clotting.