Category Archives: cardiology
Recently, I joined the editorial board of Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, the American Heart Association journal that focuses on quality of care and outcomes research. As my readers know, I became interested in cardiovascular disease because my daughter has heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia, a genetic disease that cause high LDL-cholesterol and can lead to premature heart disease. I wrote this perspective for the November issue on how engaged patients can help bring about positive change in health care.
Last week, the American College of Cardiology announced that it had named Shalom Jacobovitz as its CEO. Since 2004, Jacobovitz has served as president of Actelion Pharmaceuticals U.S., Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of Swiss pharmaceutical company Actelion Pharmaceuticals Ltd. Prior to that, Jacobovitz held positions at F. Hoffman La Roche, Abbott Canada, Nordic Labs and Marion Merrill Dow (now known as Aventis), according to the ACC press release.
A little background on Actelion. The company has several approved drugs but 90% of its revenue comes from its drug for pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), Tracleer (bosentan). Tracleer’s patent will expire in a few years, so the company will need a replacement drug to avoid a drastic decrease in revenues when generic versions of Tracleer become available. The company has a drug in development for PAH and other indications called macitentan. In April 2012, the company announced that the phase III trial for macitentan in PAH met its primary endpoint. In the fourth quarter of 2012, the company filed applications with the FDA and EMA requesting approval for macitentan for the PAH indication. The trial, called SERAPHIN, has not been published but the results were presented at a conference and an abstract was published in CHEST.
I did a little googling to find out more about Actelion. One of the first things I found was this 2010 FDA warning letter. The letter, addressed to Jean-Paul Clozel, M.D., CEO of Actelion Pharmaceuticals U.S., Inc. (Shalom Jacobovitz is cc’d), states that the company had failed to comply with Postmarketing Adverse Drug Experience reporting requirements relating to Tracleer and two other Actelion drugs.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA or “Agency”) inspected Actelion Pharmaceuticals’ (Actelion’s) facility located at the above address from June 24 through July 20, 2009. The inspection focused on Actelion’s compliance with Postmarketing Adverse Drug Experience (PADE) reporting requirements relating to the following drug products: Tracleer® (bosentan), NDA 21-290; Ventavis® (iloprost), NDA 21-799; and Zavesca® (miglustat), NDA 21-348. Both Tracleer® and Ventavis® are indicated for the treatment of forms of pulmonary arterial hypertension. Zavesca is indicated for the treatment of adult patients with mild to moderate type 1 Gaucher disease for whom enzyme replacement therapy is not a therapeutic option. FDA’s inspection found that your firm failed to comply with the postmarketing reporting requirements imposed under 21 U.S.C. § 355(k) [Section 505(k) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the Act)] and its corresponding regulations in Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations (21 C.F.R.) Section 314.80. Such failure to comply with Section 505(k) of the Act and its corresponding regulations is a prohibited act under Section 301(e) of the Act [21 U.S.C. § 331(e)]. Therefore, FDA concludes that Actelion has engaged in prohibited acts in violation of Section 301(e) of the Act.
The Agency is in receipt of your responses dated August 28, 2009, and September 11, 2009. It has been determined that the corrective actions you proposed are inadequate.
Actelion’s deviations from FDA’s reporting requirements observed during the inspection include, but are not limited to, the following: Failure to develop adequate written procedures for the surveillance, receipt, evaluation, and reporting of postmarketing adverse drug experiences to FDA under 21 C.F.R § 314.80, and failure to report adverse drug experience information to FDA under 21 C.F.R. § 314.80, each of which is discussed, in turn, below. These deviations resulted in Actelion’s failure to report approximately 3,500 patient deaths reported to Actelion in connection with Tracleer® and Ventavis®, without an adequate basis for not reporting them. (emphasis added)
To be clear, the FDA is not saying that it has concluded that Actelion’s drugs caused these unreported deaths, but rather that Actelion failed to report these deaths without an adequate basis for not reporting them. The letter goes on to state that Actelion’s procedures for reporting postmarketing adverse drug experiences are in violation of the relevant FDA regulations in that they do not require reporting of death reports to FDA where there is a reasonable possibility that the drug caused the death. Without getting into all the details, the letter demolishes each of Actelion’s reasons for continuing to not report the deaths. The letter also requests a meeting with senior management to discuss the development of adequate procedures. There is also a link to a “close-out letter” dated June 13, 2012, in which the agency informs Actelion that it has evaluated Actelion’s corrective actions and determined that they are adequate.
To sum up the chain of events, the FDA inspected Actelion in 2009 and found inadequate procedures and failure to report patient deaths that were required to be reported. Actelion responded with various creative interpretations and rationalizations for why it shouldn’t have to change its way of doing things. FDA responded with a warning letter demolishing Actelion’s reasons for noncompliance and told them to comply or else. FDA then apparently met with senior management to walk them through basic regulatory requirements that they should have already been aware of. Two years later, FDA was finally able to conclude that Actelion was in compliance with its responsibilities. To be honest, I’m not impressed with Actelion’s performance here.
On to my next Google find. Not hard to find, actually, as it was recently discussed in the New York Times, on the Pharmalot blog, and on the FDA Law Blog here, here and here. The facts are that certain generic companies attempted to purchase samples of Tracleer and Zavesca (miglustat) from Actelion for the purpose of conducting bioequivalence studies in preparation for filing an application for FDA approval of generic versions of the drugs. Actelion refused to sell samples of the drugs to the generic companies and in September 2012 filed suit against the generic companies seeking declaratory relief that it is not required to sell them the samples. Tracleer was approved with a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS) program that limits distribution of the drug. Actelion argues that selling the samples to the generic companies would be inconsistent with the Tracleer REMS and certain distribution restrictions it has placed on Zavesca and that, in addition, it is not required to do business with anyone it doesn’t want to do business with. The generic companies argue that Actelion’s conduct violates antitrust laws. In an Amicus Brief, summarized here, the Federal Trade Commission supports the position of the generic companies, pointing out that Congress included language in the statute clarifying that REMS provisions may not be used to impede generic competition. The applicable statutory language states that no holder of a REMS-covered drug shall use an aspect of the REMS to “block or delay approval” of a generic drug application. The FTC explains that ”If successful, conduct of the type alleged in this case threatens to undermine the careful balance created by the Hatch-Waxman Act and potentially preserve a brand firm’s monopoly indefinitely.” The FTC also supports the generic companies on the antitrust issues.
My next Google find on Actelion: several years ago, Actelion purchased CoTherix CoTherix had a preexisting contract with Asahi Kasei Pharma Corporation to develop and market Asahi’s drug fasudit for PAH and stable angina. Fasudil would most likely have been sold at a lower price than Tracleer, undermining Tracleer sales. In connection with the acquisition, Actelion frustrated contractual “change of control” provisions designed to assure continued fasudil development. After the acquisition closed, Actelion informed Asahi that it was no longer interested in developing and marketing fasudil. Asahi sued, asserting that the reason Actelion purchased CoTherix was to eliminate a potential competitor drug. A key document came to light during discovery — handwritten notes by an Actelion executive saying “buying both companies will leave the market for Tracleer free for Actelion.” Asahi won a large judgment against Actelion.
In 2010, Actelion disclosed that its U.S. subsidiary had received a subpoena from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California “requesting documents relating, among others, to marketing and sales practices of Tracleer® in the United States.” I don’t know the status of this investigation. However, Jean-Pierre Garnier, former CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, is currently chairman of the board of Actelion. Garnier was singled out by DOJ for promoting GSK’s drug Advair for unapproved uses.
All of the above lead me to believe that Actelion is a very aggressive company, one that pushes the boundaries on what is permitted under the law.
Professional medical associations such as the ACC are under intense scrutiny with respect to their relationships with industry and conflicts of interest. The ACC has extensive ties to industry, with approximately 25% of its total consolidated revenues coming from industry. What message is the ACC sending by choosing someone with this kind of background? Perhaps that the ACC wants to become even cozier with industry? In my opinion, the ACC board of trustees should have looked elsewhere for their CEO.
Cardiologist Westby Fisher weighs in here.
In March of this year, Larry Husten reported on CardioBrief that a review article in the Korean Circulation Journal by Chang Gyu Park and Ju Young Lee appeared to plagiarize from a review article in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology by Franz Messerli and Gurusher Panjrath. In April, Husten reported that the article was being investigated by the publishing committee of the Korean Society of Cardiology and Korean Association of Medical Journal Editors. It has just come to my attention that the KCJ article has been retracted. Here is the notice:
On July 31, 2011, Korean Circulation Journal (KCJ) published a review article by Park et al. regarding the J-curve in hypertension and coronary artery diseases. However, a possibility of plagiarism has been raised in this article.
The Editorial Board of KCJ has examined the review article and has requested the Committee for Publication Ethics of Korean Association of Medical Journal Editors (KAMJE) to provide an adequate conclusion. After thorough investigation, the Committee for Publication Ethics of KAMJE and the Editorial Board of KCJ have concluded that the article is seriously plagiarizing from an article by Messeri (sic) et al.
In this regard, on May 8, 2012, the Executive Committee of the Korean Society of Cardiology has finally decided to retract the article completely. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.
For the past several years I have been following the ezetimibe controversy (see these posts on Gooznews and this blog here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). In my view, we continue to lack evidence of ezetimibe’s clinical benefit, or even safety, 10 years after FDA approval.
I have a Google Scholar Alert for ezetimibe, so often links to articles on ezetimibe arrive in my email inbox. Recently, two review articles on ezetimibe were published that were a study in contrasts. The first, by Sheila Doggrell, takes a skeptical view toward ezetimibe and reaches the following conclusion:
The comparison of clinical trials with simvastatin and ezetimibe alone and together has clearly shown that simvastatin decreases LDL-cholesterol and this is associated with improved clinical outcomes. Also, ezetimibe alone or in the presence of simvastatin lowers LDL-cholesterol. However, ezetimibe alone or in the presence of simvastatin has not been shown to have any irrefutable beneficial effects on clinical outcomes. Thus, until/unless the use of ezetimibe is clearly shown to improve clinical outcomes, its use should be largely restricted to clinical trials investigating clinical outcomes, and ezetimibe should not be used routinely in everyday practice.
The second, by Binh An Phan, Thomas Dayspring and Peter Toth, takes a much more optimistic view:
In the current treatment of cardiovascular disease, many subjects fail to reach LDL-C targets or remain at high risk for CHD events despite optimal statin and medical therapy. Ezetimibe inhibits intestinal cholesterol absorption and is effective in lowering cholesterol as monotherapy or in combination with statins in several populations, including those with FH, sitosterolemia, and insulin resistance. Significant controversy has been generated regarding the clinical effectiveness of ezetimibe, particularly after the publication of ENHANCE and ARBITER-6 despite both trials having significant methodological flaws that limited their ability to evaluate the benefit of ezetimibe. Growing data suggest that ezetimibe in combination with statin has a positive effect on the progression of atherosclerosis and reduces cardiovascular events in subjects at risk for CHD, including those with chronic kidney disease. Results from IMPROVE-IT are forthcoming and may help to guide better the use of ezetimibe in very high-risk CHD populations. Until that time and based upon the current available data, ezetimibe should remain a viable adjunct to statin therapy in the treatment of hypercholesterolemia.
Dr. Phan and colleagues find reasons to dismiss the negative results of ENHANCE and ARBITER 6-HALTS as due to “methodological flaws” and use copious amounts of hand-waving to find support for ezetimibe in the SEAS and SHARP trials, even though those trials compared the combination of simvastatin and ezetimibe with placebo and thus can tell us nothing about what, if anything, ezetimibe added to those results. Could the differing views of Doggrell and Phan et al. have anything to do with the fact that Dr. Doggrell declares no conflicts of interest relating to ezetimibe, while Phan, Dayspring and Toth declare the following conflicts:
Binh An Phan is a speaker for Abbott. Thomas Dayspring consults for Abbott, GSK, Health Diagnostic Labs, Kowa Company, Eli Lilly, Merck, Genentech, The Roche Group, Genzyme, and Omthera. He is on the Lecture Bureau for Abbott, GSK, Health Diagnostic Labs, Kowa, Eli Lilly, LipoScience, Merck. Peter P Toth is a speaker for Abbott, AstraZeneca, Amylin, Boehringer-Ingelheim, GSK, Kowa, Merck and consults for Abbott, Aegerion, AstraZeneca, Atherotech, Genzyme, Genentech, Kowa, and Merck.
It is not too surprising that authors who are consultants and on the speaker’s bureau for Merck would take a favorable view of ezetimibe. What is surprising is that anyone would take their word for it.
Doggrell SA. The ezetimibe controversy — can this be resolved by comparing the clinical trials with simvastatin and ezetimibe alone and together? Expert Opin. Pharmacother. (2012) 13(10):1469-1480.
Phan BAP, et al. Ezetimibe therapy: mechanism of action and clinical update. Vascular Health and Risk Management 2012:8:415-427.
Welcome Jesse Ballenger to the blogosphere. Jesse is a historian who specializes in the history of medicine and is the author of Self, Senility and Alzheimer’s Disease in Modern America. Gary Schwitzer alerted me to Jesse’s post on Gina Kolata’s recent Sunday New York Times piece, How Do You Live Knowing You Might Have an Alzheimer’s Gene?, as well as to the existence of his blog, To Conquer Confusion: A Historian’s Perspective on the Science and Experience of Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia. Jesse has both praise and criticism for Kolata’s story, and his post brings needed perspective on the history of research on Alzheimer’s as well as on the choice on Kolata’s part to present only the very optimistic views of certain Alzheimer’s researchers who “say that within a decade there could be a drug that staves off brain destruction and death.” I agree with him that “Kolata should have raised questions about this claim, and talked to experts not directly involved in the research who are far less optimistic about its potential to so quickly lead to effective treatments.” So please go read his post.
Kolata describes an American family in which many members are afflicted with early-onset Alzheimer’s caused by an autosomal dominant mutation. Because the mutation is dominant, each affected family member has a 50% chance of passing the mutation on to each of his or her chidren. The story is tragic and brought to my mind the emotions I experienced in 2001, when my daughter was diagnosed with heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia (heFH) at age 8. This is a genetic disease that causes very high LDL-cholesterol from birth and if untreated leads to early heart disease in a high percentage of patients. At the time, I was only vaguely aware that there was a history of heart disease in my husband’s family and that his mother had had a heart attack. At the urging of my daughter’s cardiologist, we asked my husband’s mother for more details and learned that her father had died of a heart attack at 35 and her brother, her only sibling, died of a heart attack at 40. My mother-in-law suffered her first heart attack at age 58. My husband inherited the mutation but has only a mild case, and my mother-in-law had never been told anything other than that she had high cholesterol, so my daughter’s diagnosis was the first occasion anyone in the family realized that the family history of early heart attacks was caused by a mutation. Fortunately, unlike the case of Alzheimer’s disease, the risk associated with heFH can now be greatly reduced if patients are treated from an early age with a statin. Homozygous FH patients, who have two copies of an FH mutation, are not so lucky and usually must undergo LDL apheresis on a regular basis.
Back to Kolata’s article: I want to expand a little on a comment I wrote on Jesse’s post. My comment related to Kolata’s comparison between the development of statins and the development of drugs to prevent Alzheimer’s. As described in Kolata’s article, certain drugs in development are being tested in persons who are carriers of an Alzheimer’s mutation but have not yet developed symptoms of the disease. The patients will receive one of several drugs or a placebo, and will be monitored for the development of certain biomarkers and, importantly, for the development of memory problems. Kolata states that “Statins, the drugs that are broadly prescribed to block the body’s cholesterol synthesis, were first found effective in studies of people who inherited a rare gene that led to severe and early heart disease.”
The disease Kolata is presumably referring to is FH, but whether her statement is accurate depends on how one defines “effective.” Early in the development of statins, after they had been tested in animals, they were given to a few patients with homozygous FH and heterozygous FH, as described in this 1992 article in the Journal of Lipid Research. However, at that time the drugs were only being tested for their ability to lower LDL and for safety. LDL-lowering is a surrogate endpoint. If by “effective” one means the prevention of heart attacks and other cardiovascular events, the statement is inaccurate. When statins came on the market in the late 1980s, FH patients were excluded from the clinical trials that were conducted to show than statins not only lowered LDL but also prevented heart attacks, strokes and death. It was considered unethical to give an FH patient a placebo. To this day, no randomized controlled trial of statins with clinical endpoints has been done in FH patients and it is unlikely that one will ever be done.
Direct evidence of the effectiveness of statins in heFH includes two observational studies, one of patients in a British registry and one of patients in a Dutch registry. In addition, the ASAP trial compared a high dose statin with a moderate dose statin in heFH patients, but the endpoint was carotid intima media thickness, “IMT” (i.e., thickness of the carotid artery measured by ultrasound). There was also a trial of statin vs. placebo in teenage FH patients using IMT as an endpoint. In addition, many trials of statins have shown a benefit in non-FH patients with elevated LDL and it is reasonable to assume that this benefit would carry over to FH patients.
Thus, the comparison between the trials of investigational Alzheimer’s drugs in mutation carriers and the testing of statins in FH patients is not particularly apt. The Alzheimer’s trials in patients with hereditary Alzheimer’s will be measuring the development of clinical symptoms of Alzheimer’s (i.e., memory loss, confusion, etc.). The tests of statins in FH patients looked only at the effect of the drug on a surrogate endpoint (i.e., LDL-lowering) and no trials with clinical endpoints (i.e., heart attacks and other cardiovascular events and death) were done in FH patients.
Endo A. The discovery and development of HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors. J. Lipid Res. 1992 33:(11) 1569-82.
Neil A, Cooper J, Betteridge J, et al. Reductions in all-cause, cancer, and coronary mortality in statin-treated patients with heterozygous familial hypercholesterolaemia: a prospective registry study. Eur Heart J 2008; 29: 2625-2633.
In January, I blogged about an open letter by Harlan Krumholz and Rodney Hayward to the panel that is currently engaged in writing new guidelines for cholesterol management. As discussed in my post, their letter challenges the committee to replace the current “treat to target” paradigm with a “tailored treatment” approach. This has been one of my more popular posts of all time, and people often find my blog by Googling “Krumholz Hayward open letter” and the like. It also has been discussed on CardioExchange. So I knew their paper had created a bit of a buzz in the cardiology community. Well, it appears that some in that community are not happy that someone is challenging the current paradigm. Dr. Krumholz reports on CardioExchange that he was approached by an influential person and asked to stop speaking out on the new approach he is advocating:
I had an experience the other week that reminded me that speaking your mind has its challenges. I was approached by someone with influence who asked me to cease my discussions on a particular topic. The reason was oblique – and I was told that people are viewing me negatively because my views are strong and wondering if there are conflicts of interest that are influencing me. In essence, I was told that people are whispering about me – though no names were given.
Now this topic was part of a scientific debate that has strong implications for guidelines and performance measures – and, well, patients. It is a situation where I am questioning conventional wisdom – and the long held beliefs by many individuals. I am trying to do so respectfully – and through the use of evidence – but still it is questioning dogma.
This conversation prompted me to write a message to my younger colleagues urging them to stand up for what they believe – and be willing to speak truth to power. I quote my friend Victor Montori, who eloquently advised a junior colleague about how to manage a concern about whether to express an opinion that was likely to be viewed negatively by her superiors. That person had been told to hold opinions tight until he had more grey hair. Victor starts by saying: ‘I have struggled with this issue for years. Turns out that this is a common struggle for those who find themselves unable to stay silent in the face of waste, error, low integrity, or abuse.’
The message Dr. Krumholz wrote is in the form of an editorial in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, entitled “A Note to My Younger Colleagues … Be Brave.” The editorial is open access, so I urge you to go read it in its entirety, but I’m going to quote this paragraph, which seems key:
If you take the path toward clarity, I guarantee that you will occasionally find people who will disparage you. They may seek to undermine you, find ways to marginalize you, and try to incriminate you. They may come from directions that surprise you. Powerful ideas often attract attacks that focus more on individuals than ideas. If you raise inconvenient truths or voice uncomfortable opinions, particularly if they threaten someone’s comfortable status quo, then you will discover much about the character of those with whom you disagree. But always take the high road, engage in dialogue about ideas and evidence, and be motivated by the opportunity to best serve patients and the public. You will not regret it.
Although I am not a physician, I certainly recognize and have experienced the issues Dr. Krumholz is describing in my own life. Speaking uncomfortable truths often isn’t considered nice and doesn’t win popularity contests, but it is necessary for progress to be made. So I will keep covering this controversy, and I invite you to read Dr. Krumholz’s editorial and then let me know your thoughts.
Addendum: Here are comments by Ben Goldacre on Dr. Krumholz’s editorial.
Qnexa, a combination of phentermine and topiramate, is a proposed anti-obesity medication. Although clinical trials demonstrate that Qnexa can lead to an approximately 10% weight loss, an FDA advisory committee recommended against approval in 2010 because of safety concerns (an increased risk of cleft lip and palette and increased heart rate, which could increase the cardiovascular risk). On February 22, 2012, an FDA advisory committee voted 20-2 in favor of approval, based on an additional submission by the sponsor, Vivus Inc.
In a commentary in Annals of Internal Medicine, Michael Lauer of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute explains why he voted against recommending approval. Briefly, he discusses how the small pre-approval trials conducted by the sponsor, and the small number (12) of major cardiovascular events that occurred during those trials, give us insufficient information to determine whether Qnexa increases the risk of cardiovascular events. Qnexa is thus like a used car that could be either a “lemon” or a “peach.” In addition, based on prior experiences with obesity medications that were withdrawn from the market due to cardiovascular effects, we have reason to be concerned about an obesity medication that increases heart rate (consider the case of Meridia, previously discussed on this blog here and here). Finally, the sponsor’s argument that certain improved biomarkers, such as blood pressure and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, outweigh any effect of the increased heart rate, fails to assuage his concerns given the failure of surrogates in the past. He states that “We cannot assume that just because a drug reduces weight and improves some biomarkers that it will be safe, let alone beneficial.” I completely agree. Here is his conclusion, but his commentary is open access, so I urge you to read it in full:
So what to do? We can resolve the information asymmetry by insisting on a large-scale, preapproval cardiovascular outcomes trial of Qnexa. It would be too risky to rely on postapproval surveillance or to hope that a rigorous trial could be conducted in a timely manner. If Qnexa prevents cardiovascular events, or at least doesn’t increase the risk for them, in a preapproval trial, then we will all know that we have the peach we’ve been waiting for.
As discussed by Larry Husten on CardioBrief, a 2011 review article in Korean Circulation Journal appears to plagiarize from a 2009 article that was published in Journal of the American College of Cardiology. I spent several hours comparing the two articles, and found that several paragraphs in the KCJ article consisted primarily of paraphrasing, without attribution, of text from the JACC article. In addition, the majority of references in the KCJ article and two of the figures are the same as in the JACC article, and several of the headings are the same or very similar. The KCJ article does not cite the JACC article at all.
The JACC article is by Franz Messerli and Gurusher Panjrath. The KCJ article is by Chang Gyu Park and Ju Young Lee.
Moreover, Figure 4 in the KCJ article appears to have been copied from figure 1 in the 2009 revised European Guidelines on Hypertension Management, although the figure instead references a 2006 study by Messerli and colleagues that was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
See Larry’s post on CardioBrief for more details.
Update: Larry reports that the editor of KCJ contacted him to say that the article is now being investigated by the publishing committee of the Korean Society of Cardiology and that an additional investigation has been requested from the Ethics Commission of the Korean Association of Medical Journal Editors.
Heart and Stroke Foundation “make death wait” campaign: effective advocacy or unnecessary scare tactics?
I would be interested to know what my readers think of the two Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (HSF) ads shown below. The ads are part of HSF’s ”Make death wait” awareness and fundraising campaign that’s been going on for the last few months. In the first ad, shown in this You Tube video, several different women are shown as a male voice, meant to personify death, intones “I love women. I love older women, professional women, stay-at-home moms. I love how women put their family first. I love how you’re so concerned that I’ll get to your husband.” In the last scene a woman in a bathing suit looks apprehensively over her shoulder as the voice warns, “You have no idea that I’m coming after you.” Eileen Melnick McCarthy, director of communications for the foundation, told a reporter that the intent of the campaign is to “wake up Canadians to the threat of heart disease and stroke.”
In addition, the print ad that appears below has appeared in a Canadian magazine. The copy, in case you can’t make it out, reads as follows:
Death loves menopause. He loves that menopause makes women more vulnerable to heart disease and stroke. And that women are far more likely to die of a heart attack. Most of all, he loves that heart disease and stroke is the #1 killer of women. Please donate, and make death wait.
Is this a legitimate way to “wake up” people to the threat of cardiovascular disease? Or unnecessary and counterproductive scare tactics? I lean toward the latter.
Hayward and Krumholz: Open Letter to the Adult Treatment Panel IV of the National Institutes of Health
Rodney Hayward and Harlan Krumholz have published an open letter to the committee that is currently engaged in writing updated guidelines for cardiovascular risk reduction. Their letter challenges the committee to replace the current “treat to target” paradigm with a “tailored treatment” approach, as discussed below.
The primary focus of the current set of guidelines, ATP III , was a strategy of treating patients to target LDL-cholesterol levels, known as the “treat to target” paradigm. Moreover, the “cutpoints,” or triggers, for initiating therapy are also based on LDL levels, with higher risk patients having lower cutpoints. However, as Hayward, Krumholz and colleagues have previously argued (see here, here and here), the treat to target paradigm was not based on the results of clinical trials, since no major randomized controlled trial has tested the benefits of treating patients to LDL targets. Rather, the trials have used fixed doses of lipid-lowering drugs.
Hayward and Krumholz argue that LDL levels are not particularly useful in assessing the 2 factors that help determine the benefit of a treatment for an individual patient: (1) risk of morbidity and mortality in the absence of treatment (baseline risk) and (2) the degree to which the treatment reduces that risk. For calculating baseline risk, LDL is only one of several factors that are considered, including age, gender, smoking, blood pressure, HDL, and family history of premature cardiovascular disease and in most cases contributes little to the estimate of cardiovascular risk. For the second factor, clinical trials of statins demonstrate that the relative benefits of statins are not substantially related to pretreatment LDL levels. Thus, a high risk person may have low LDL levels and a low risk person may have high LDL levels and the high risk person will derive more absolute benefit more from treatment even though his or her LDL is low (illustrated in this table).
Hayward and Krumholz also argue that treating to LDL targets can lead to treatments that have not been shown to be safe. The treat to target approach can mean initiating treatment in patients at a relatively young age, leading to potentially many years of statin treatment. The long-term safety of this approach is not yet known. In addition, the perceived need to reach an LDL target often leads to the addition of nonstatin drugs such as niacin and ezetimibe when the maximum dose of a statin is reached and the patient’s LDL is still above goal. The benefit and safety of adding these drugs on top of statin therapy has not yet been demonstrated.
The “tailored treatment” approach Hayward and Krumholz advocate bases intensity of statin treatment on a person’s 5- or 10-year cardiovascular risk. In a previous paper, Hayward et al. tested a tailored treatment model of primary prevention using 5-year coronary artery disease (CAD) risk and compared it with the treat to target approach. In their model, a person with 5% to 15% risk would be prescribed 40 mg simvastatin and a person with greater than 15% risk would be prescribed 40 mg atorvastatin. Using this simulated model, the tailored treatment approach was found to prevent more CAD events while treating fewer persons with high-dose statins as compared to the treat to target approach.
For the reasons stated above, the tailored treatment approach does appear to me to be superior to the treat to target approach. At the same time, I note that the decision to take a statin is a personal decision. For primary prevention, the absolute benefit for most people of taking a statin over a 5 or 10 year period is small. Each person should calculate their baseline risk (there are online risk calculators for this), look at how much their risk can be lowered with a statin, and ask themselves if the benefit seems worth it to them in terms of cost, inconvenience and possible side effects (including a small increase in risk of developing diabetes).
In addition, I note that neither approach is designed to apply to patients with heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia (FH). Due to the very high risk of premature coronary heart disease in FH patients (approximately 85% of male FH patients and 50% of female FH patients will suffer a coronary event by age 65 if untreated), the treatment paradigm for FH patients is that all are treated with statins starting in childhood or early adulthood (not everyone agrees that it is necessary to start treatment in childhood but that’s a topic for another day). In other words, FH patients are treated based on their lifetime risk, not their 5- or 10-year risk.
Hayward RA, Krumholz HM. Three reasons to abandon low-density lipoprotein targets: an open letter to the Adult Treatment Panel IV of the National Institutes of Health. Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes. 2012:5;2-5.
Hayward RA, Hofer TP, Vijan S. Narrative review: lack of evidence for recommended low-density lipoprotein treatment targets: a solvable problem. Ann Intern Med. 2006;145:520-530.
Krumholz HM, Hayward RA. Shifting views on lipid lowering therapy. BMJ. 2010;341:c3531.
Hayward RA, Krumholz HM, Zulman DM, Timbie JW, Vijan S. Optimizing statin treatment for primary prevention of coronary artery disease. Ann Intern Med. 2010;152:69-77.
Rind DM. Intensity of lipid lowering therapy in secondary prevention of coronary heart disease. In: Freeman MW, Sokol HN, eds. UpToDate. 19.3 ed.