Week 33 – Varenicline vs. Bupropion and Placebo for Smoking Cessation

“Varenicline, an α2β2 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Partial Agonist, vs Sustained-Release Bupropion and Placebo for Smoking Cessation”

JAMA. 2006 Jul 5;296(1):56-63. [free full text]

Assisting our patients in smoking cessation is a fundamental aspect of outpatient internal medicine. At the time of this trial, the only approved pharmacotherapies for smoking cessation were nicotine replacement therapy and bupropion. As the α2β2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) was thought to be crucial to the reinforcing effects of nicotine, it was hypothesized that a partial agonist for this receptor could yield sufficient effect to satiate cravings and minimize withdrawal symptoms but also limit the reinforcing effects of exogenous nicotine. Thus Pfizer designed this large phase 3 trial to test the efficacy of its new α2β2 nAChR partial agonist varenicline (Chantix) against the only other non-nicotine pharmacotherapy at the time (bupropion) as well as placebo.

The trial enrolled adult smokers (10+ cigarettes per day) with fewer than three months of smoking abstinence in the past year (notable exclusion criteria included numerous psychiatric and substance use comorbidities). Patients were randomized to 12 weeks of treatment with either varenicline uptitrated by day 8 to 1mg BID, bupropion SR uptitrated by day 4 to 150mg BID, or placebo BID. Patients were also given a smoking cessation self-help booklet at the index visit and encouraged to set a quit date of day 8. Patients were followed at weekly clinic visits for the first 12 weeks (treatment duration) and then a mixture of clinic and phone visits for weeks 13-52. Non-smoking status during follow-up was determined by patient self-report combined with exhaled carbon monoxide < 10ppm. The primary endpoint was the 4-week continuous abstinence rate for study weeks 9-12 (as confirmed by exhaled CO level). Secondary endpoints included the continuous abstinence rate for weeks 9-24 and for weeks 9-52.

1025 patients were randomized. Compliance was similar among the three groups and the median duration of treatment was 84 days. Loss to follow-up was similar among the three groups. CO-confirmed continuous abstinence during weeks 9-12 was 44.0% among the varenicline group vs. 17.7% among the placebo group (OR 3.85, 95% CI 2.70–5.50, p < 0.001) vs. 29.5% among the bupropion group (OR vs. varenicline group 1.93, 95% CI 1.40–2.68, p < 0.001). (OR for bupropion vs. placebo was 2.00, 95% CI 1.38–2.89, p < 0.001.)  Continuous abstinence for weeks 9-24 was 29.5% among the varenicline group vs. 10.5% among the placebo group (p < 0.001) vs. 20.7% among the bupropion group (p = 0.007). Continuous abstinence rates weeks 9-52 were 21.9% among the varenicline group vs. 8.4% among placebo group (p < 0.001) vs. 16.1% among the bupropion group (p = 0.057). Subgroup analysis of the primary outcome by sex did not yield significant differences in drug efficacy by sex.

This study demonstrated that varenicline was superior to both placebo and bupropion in facilitating smoking cessation at up to 24 weeks. At greater than 24 weeks, varenicline remained superior to placebo but was similarly efficacious as bupropion. This was a well-designed and executed large, double-blind, placebo- and active-treatment-controlled multicenter US trial. The trial was completed in April 2005 and a new drug application for varenicline (Chantix) was submitted to the FDA in November 2005. Of note, an “identically designed” (per this study’s authors), manufacturer-sponsored phase 3 trial was performed in parallel and reported very similar results in the in the same July 2006 issue of JAMA (PMID: 16820547) as the above study by Gonzales et al. These robust, positive-outcome pre-approval trials of varenicline helped the drug rapidly obtain approval in May 2006.

Per expert opinion at UpToDate, varenicline remains a preferred first-line pharmacotherapy for smoking cessation. Bupropion is a suitable, though generally less efficacious, alternative, particularly when the patient has comorbid depression. Per UpToDate, the recent (2016) EAGLES trial demonstrated that “in contrast to earlier concerns, varenicline and bupropion have no higher risk of associated adverse psychiatric effects than [nicotine replacement therapy] in smokers with comorbid psychiatric disorders.”

Further Reading/References:
1. This trial @ ClinicalTrials.gov
2. Sister trial: “Efficacy of varenicline, an alpha4beta2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor partial agonist, vs placebo or sustained-release bupropion for smoking cessation: a randomized controlled trial.” JAMA. 2006 Jul 5;296(1):56-63.
3. Chantix FDA Approval Letter 5/10/2006
4. Rigotti NA. Pharmacotherapy for smoking cessation in adults. Post TW, ed. UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate Inc. [https://www.uptodate.com/contents/pharmacotherapy-for-smoking-cessation-in-adults] (Accessed on February 16, 2019).
5. “Neuropsychiatric safety and efficacy of varenicline, bupropion, and nicotine patch in smokers with and without psychiatric disorders (EAGLES): a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Lancet. 2016 Jun 18;387(10037):2507-20.
6. 2 Minute Medicine: “Varenicline and bupropion more effective than varenicline alone for tobacco abstinence”
7. 2 Minute Medicine: “Varenicline safe for smoking cessation in patients with stable major depressive disorder”

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Image Credit: Сергей Фатеев, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Week 32 – ARISTOTLE

“Apixaban versus Warfarin in Patients with Atrial Fibrillation”

N Engl J Med. 2011 Sep 15;365(11):981-92. [free full text]

Prior to the development of the DOACs, warfarin was the standard of care for the reduction of risk of stroke in atrial fibrillation. Drawbacks of warfarin include a narrow therapeutic range, numerous drug and dietary interactions, the need for frequent monitoring, and elevated bleeding risk. Around 2010, the definitive RCTs for the oral direct thrombin inhibitor dabigatran (RE-LY) and the oral factor Xa inhibitor rivaroxaban (ROCKET AF) showed equivalence or superiority to warfarin. Shortly afterward, the ARISTOTLE trial demonstrated the superiority of the oral factor Xa inhibitor apixaban (Eliquis).

The trial enrolled patients with atrial fibrillation or flutter with at least one additional risk factor for stroke (age 75+, prior CVA/TIA, symptomatic CHF, or reduced LVEF). Notably, patients with Cr > 2.5 were excluded. Patients were randomized to treatment with either apixaban BID + placebo warfarin daily (reduced 2.5mg apixaban dose given in patients with 2 or more of the following: age 80+, weight < 60, Cr > 1.5) or to placebo apixaban BID + warfarin daily. The primary efficacy outcome was the incidence of stroke, and the primary safety outcome was “major bleeding” (clinically overt and accompanied by Hgb drop of ≥ 2, “occurring at a critical site,” or resulting in death). Secondary outcomes included all-cause mortality and a composite of major bleeding and “clinically-relevant non-major bleeding.”

9120 patients were assigned to the apixaban group, and 9081 were assigned to the warfarin group. Mean CHADS2 score was 2.1. Fewer patients in the apixaban group discontinued their assigned study drug. Median duration of follow-up was 1.8 years. The incidence of stroke was 1.27% per year in the apixaban group vs. 1.60% per year in the warfarin group (HR 0.79, 95% CI 0.66-0.95, p<0.001). This reduction was consistent across all major subgroups (see Figure 2). Notably, the rate of hemorrhagic stroke was 49% lower in the apixaban group, and the rate of ischemic stroke was 8% lower in the apixaban group. All-cause mortality was 3.52% per year in the apixaban group vs. 3.94% per year in the warfarin group (HR 0.89, 95% CI 0.80-0.999, p=0.047). The incidence of major bleeding was 2.13% per year in the apixaban group vs. 3.09% per year in the warfarin group (HR 0.69, 95% CI 0.60-0.80, p<0.001). The rate of intracranial hemorrhage was 0.33% per year in the apixaban group vs. 0.80% per year in the warfarin group (HR 0.42, 95% CI 0.30-0.58, p<0.001). The rate of any bleeding was 18.1% per year in the apixaban group vs. 25.8% in the warfarin group (p<0.001).

In patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation and at least one other risk factor for stroke, anticoagulation with apixaban significantly reduced the risk of stroke, major bleeding, and all-cause mortality relative to anticoagulation with warfarin. This was a large RCT that was designed and powered to demonstrate non-inferiority but in fact was able to demonstrate the superiority of apixaban. Along with ROCKET AF and RE-LY, the ARISTOTLE trial ushered in the modern era of DOACs in atrial fibrillation. Apixaban was approved by the FDA for the treatment of non-valvular atrial fibrillation in 2012. Patient prescription cost is no longer a major barrier to prescription. These three major DOACs are all preferred in the DC Medicaid formulary (see page 14). To date, no trial has compared the various DOACs directly.

Further Reading/References:
1. ARISTOTLE @ Wiki Journal Club
2. 2 Minute Medicine
3. “Oral anticoagulants for prevention of stroke in atrial fibrillation: systematic review, network meta-analysis, and cost-effectiveness analysis,” BMJ 2017

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Week 31 – Early TIPS in Cirrhosis with Variceal Bleeding

“Early Use of TIPS in Patients with Cirrhosis and Variceal Bleeding”

N Engl J Med. 2010 Jun 24;362(25):2370-9. [free full text]

Variceal bleeding is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in decompensated cirrhosis. The standard of care for an acute variceal bleed includes a combination of vasoactive drugs, prophylactic antibiotics, and endoscopic techniques (e.g. banding). Transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS) can be used to treat refractory bleeding. This 2010 trial sought to determine the utility of early TIPS during the initial bleed in high-risk patients when compared to standard therapy.

The trial enrolled cirrhotic patients (Child-Pugh class B or C with score ≤ 13) with acute esophageal variceal bleeding. All patients received endoscopic band ligation (EBL) or endoscopic injection sclerotherapy (EIS) at the time of diagnostic endoscopy. All patients also received vasoactive drugs (terlipressin, somatostatin, or octreotide). Patients were randomized to either TIPS performed within 72 hours after diagnostic endoscopy or to “standard therapy” by 1) treatment with vasoactive drugs with transition to nonselective beta blocker when patients were free of bleeding followed by 2) addition of isosorbide mononitrate to maximum tolerated dose, and 3) a second session of EBL at 7-14 days after the initial session (repeated q10-14 days until variceal eradication was achieved). The primary outcome was a composite of failure to control acute bleeding or failure to prevent “clinically significant” variceal bleeding (requiring hospital admission or transfusion) at 1 year after enrollment. Selected secondary outcomes included 1-year mortality, development of hepatic encephalopathy (HE), ICU days, and hospital LOS.

359 patients were screened for inclusion, but ultimately only 63 were randomized. Baseline characteristics were similar among the two groups except that the early TIPS group had a higher rate of patients with previous hepatic encephalopathy. The primary composite endpoint of failure to control acute bleeding or rebleeding within 1 year occurred in 14 of 31 (45%) patients in the pharmacotherapy-EBL group and in only 1 of 32 (3%) of the early TIPS group (p = 0.001). The 1-year actuarial probability of remaining free of the primary outcome was 97% in the early TIPS group vs. 50% in the pharmacotherapy-EBL group (ARR 47 percentage points, 95% CI 25-69 percentage points, NNT 2.1). Regarding mortality, at one year, 12 of 31 (39%) patients in the pharmacotherapy-EBL group had died, while only 4 of 32 (13%) in the early TIPS group had died (p = 0.001, NNT = 4.0). There were no group differences in prevalence of HE at one year (28% in the early TIPS group vs. 40% in the pharmacotherapy-EBL group, p = 0.13). Additionally, there were no group differences in 1-year actuarial probability of new or worsening ascites. There were also no differences in length of ICU stay or hospitalization duration.

Early TIPS in acute esophageal variceal bleeding, when compared to standard pharmacotherapy and endoscopic band ligation, improved control of index bleeding, reduced recurrent variceal bleeding at 1 year, and reduced all-cause mortality. Prior studies had demonstrated that TIPS reduced the rebleeding rate but increased the rate of hepatic encephalopathy without improving survival. As such, TIPS had only been recommended as a rescue therapy. Obviously, this study presents compelling data that challenge these paradigms. The authors note that in “patients with Child-Pugh class C or in class B with active variceal bleeding, failure to initially control the bleeding or early rebleeding contributes to further deterioration in liver function, which in turn worsens the prognosis and may preclude the use of rescue TIPS.” Authors at UpToDate note that, given the totality of evidence to date, the benefit of early TIPS in preventing rebleeding “is offset by its failure to consistently improve survival and increasing morbidity due to the development of liver failure and encephalopathy.” Today, TIPS remains primarily a salvage therapy for use in cases of recurrent bleeding despite standard pharmacotherapy and EBL. There may be a subset of patients in whom early TIPS is the ideal strategy, but further trials will be required to identify this subset.

Further Reading/References:
1. Wiki Journal Club []
2. 2 Minute Medicine []
3. UpToDate, “Prevention of recurrent variceal hemorrhage in patients with cirrhosis

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD