Week 42 – BeSt

“Clinical and Radiographic Outcomes of Four Different Treatment Strategies in Patients with Early Rheumatoid Arthritis (the BeSt Study).”

Arthritis & Rheumatism. 2005 Nov;52(11):3381-3390. [free full text]

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is among the most prevalent of the rheumatic diseases with a lifetime prevalence of 3.6% in women and 1.7% in men [1]. It is a chronic, systemic, inflammatory autoimmune disease of variable clinical course that can severely impact physical functional status and even mortality. Over the past 30 years, as the armamentarium of therapies for RA has exploded, there has been increased debate about the ideal initial therapy. The BeSt (Dutch: Behandel-Strategieën “treatment strategies”) trial was designed to compare, according to the authors, four of “the most frequently used and discussed strategies.” Regimens incorporating traditional disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), such as methotrexate, and newer therapies, such as TNF-alpha inhibitors, were compared directly.

The trial enrolled 508 DMARD-naïve patients with early rheumatoid arthritis. Pertinent exclusion criteria included history of cancer and pre-existing laboratory abnormalities or comorbidities (e.g. elevated creatinine or ALT, alcohol abuse, pregnancy or desire to conceive, etc.) that would preclude the use of various DMARDs. Patients were randomized to one of four treatment groups. Within each regimen, the Disease Activity Score in 44 joints (DAS-44) was assessed q3 months, and, if > 2.4, the medication regimen was uptitrated to the next step within the treatment group.

Four Treatment Groups

  1. Sequential monotherapy: methotrexate (MTX) 15mg/week, uptitrated PRN to 25-30mg/week. If insufficient control, the following sequence was pursued: sulfasalazine (SSZ) monotherapy, leflunomide monotherapy, MTX + infliximab, gold with methylprednisolone, MTX + cyclosporin A (CSA) + prednisone
  2. Step-up combination therapy: MTX 15mg/week, uptitrated PRN to 25-30mg/week. If insufficient control, SSZ was added, followed by hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), followed by prednisone. If patients failed to respond to those four drugs, they were switched to MTX + infliximab, then MTX + CSA + prednisone, and finally to leflunomide.
  3. Initial combination therapy with tapered high-dose prednisone: MTX 7.5 mg/week + SSZ 2000 mg/day + prednisone 60mg/day (tapered in 7 weeks to 7.5 mg/day). If insufficient control, MTX was uptitrated to 25-30 mg/week. Next, combination would be switched to MTX + CSA + prednisone, then MTX + infliximab, then leflunomide monotherapy, gold with methylprednisolone, and finally azathioprine with prednisone.
  4. Initial combination therapy with infliximab: MTX 25-30 mg/week + infliximab 3 mg/kg at weeks 0, 2, 6, and q8 weeks thereafter. There was a protocol for infliximab-dose uptitration starting at 3 months. If insufficient control on MTX and infliximab 10 mg/kg, patients were switched to SSZ, then leflunomide, then MTX + CSA + prednisone, then gold + methylprednisolone, and finally AZA with prednisone.

Once clinical response was adequate for at least 6 months, there was a protocol for tapering the drug regimen.

The primary endpoints were: 1) functional ability per the Dutch version of the Health Assessment Questionnaire (D-HAQ), collected by a blinded research nurse q3 months and 2) radiographic joint damage per the modified Sharp/Van der Heijde score (SHS). Pertinent secondary outcomes included DAS-44 score and laboratory evidence of treatment toxicity.

At randomization, enrolled RA patients had a median duration of symptoms of 23 weeks and median duration since diagnosis of RA of 2 weeks. Mean DAS-44 was 4.4 ± 0.9. 72% of patients had erosive disease. Mean D-HAQ score at 3 months was 1.0 in groups 1 and 2 and 0.6 in groups 3 and 4 (p < 0.001 for groups 1 and 2 vs. groups 3 and 4; paired tests otherwise insignificant). Mean D-HAQ at 1 year was 0.7 in groups 1 and 2 and 0.5 in groups 3 and 4 (p = 0.010 for group 1 vs. group 3, p = 0.003 for group 1 vs. group 4; paired tests otherwise insignificant). At 1 year, patients in group 3 or 4 had less radiographic progression in joint damage per SHS than patients in group 1 or 2. Median increases in SHS were 2.0, 2.5., 1.0, and 0.5 in groups 1-4, respectively (p = 0.003 for group 1 vs. group 3, p < 0.001 for group 1 versus group 4, p = 0.007 for group 2 vs. group 3, p < 0.001 for group 2 vs. group 4). Regarding DAS-44 score: low disease activity (DAS-44 ≤ 2.4) at 1 year was reached in 53%, 64%, 71%, 74% of groups 1-4, respectively (p = 0.004 for group 1 vs. group 3, p = 0.001 for group 1 vs. group 4, p not significant for other comparisons). There were no group differences in prevalence of adverse effects.

Overall, among patients with early RA, initial combination therapy that included either prednisone (group 3) or infliximab (group 4) resulted in better functional and radiographic improvement than did initial therapy with sequential monotherapy (group 1) or step-up combination therapy (group 2). In the discussion, the authors note that given the treatment group differences in radiographic progression of disease, “starting therapy with a single DMARD would be a missed opportunity in a considerable number of patients.” Contemporary commentary by Weisman notes that “the authors describe both an argument and a counterargument arising from their observations: aggressive treatment with combinations of expensive drugs would ‘overtreat’ a large proportion of patients, yet early suppression of disease activity may have an important influence on subsequent long‐term disability and damage.”

Fourteen years later, it is a bit difficult to place the specific results of this trial in our current practice. Its trial design is absolutely byzantine and compares the 1-year experience of a variety of complex protocols that theoretically have substantial eventual potential overlap. Furthermore, it is difficult to assess if the relatively small group differences in symptom (D-HAQ) and radiographic (SHS) scales were truly clinically significant even if they were statistically significant. The American College of Rheumatology 2015 Guideline for the Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis synthesized the immense body of literature that came before and after the BeSt study and ultimately gave a variety of conditional statements about the “best practice” treatment of symptomatic early RA. (See Table 2 on page 8.) The recommendations emphasized DMARD monotherapy as the initial strategy but in the specific setting of a treat-to-target strategy. They also recommended escalation to combination DMARDs or biologics in patients with moderate or high disease activity despite DMARD monotherapy.

References / Additional Reading:
1. “The lifetime risk of adult-onset rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory autoimmune rheumatic diseases.” Arthritis Rheum. 2011 Mar;63(3):633-9. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21360492]
2. BeSt @ Wiki Journal Club
3. “Progress toward the cure of rheumatoid arthritis? The BeSt study.” Arthritis Rheum. 2005 Nov;52(11):3326-32.
4. “Review: treat to target in rheumatoid arthritis: fact, fiction, or hypothesis?” Arthritis Rheumatol. 2014 Apr;66(4):775-82. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24757129]
5. “2015 American College of Rheumatology Guideline for the Treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis” Arthritis Rheumatol. 2016 Jan;68(1):1-26
6. RheumDAS calculator

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Image Credit: Braegel, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Week 37 – LOTT

“A Randomized Trial of Long-Term Oxygen for COPD with Moderate Desaturation”

by the Long-Term Oxygen Treatment Trial (LOTT) Research Group

N Engl J Med. 2016 Oct 27;375(17):1617-1627. [free full text]

The long-term treatment of severe resting hypoxemia (SpO2 < 89%) in COPD with supplemental oxygen has been a cornerstone of modern outpatient COPD management since its mortality benefit was demonstrated circa 1980. Subsequently, the utility of supplemental oxygen in COPD patients with moderate resting daytime hypoxemia (SpO2 89-93%) was investigated in trials in the 1990s; however, such trials were underpowered to assess mortality benefit. Ultimately, the LOTT trial was funded by the NIH and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) primarily to determine if there was a mortality benefit to supplemental oxygen in COPD patients with moderate hypoxemia as well to analyze as numerous other secondary outcomes, such as hospitalization rates and exercise performance.

The LOTT trial was originally planned to enroll 3500 patients. However, after 7 months the trial had randomized only 34 patients, and mortality had been lower than anticipated. Thus in late 2009 the trial was redesigned to include broader inclusion criteria (now patients with exercise-induced hypoxemia could qualify) and the primary endpoint was broadened from mortality to a composite of time to first hospitalization or death.

The revised LOTT trial enrolled COPD patients with moderate resting hypoxemia (SpO2 89-93%) or moderate exercise-induced desaturation during the 6-minute walk test (SpO2 ≥ 80% for ≥ 5 minutes and < 90% for ≥ 10 seconds). Patients were randomized to either supplemental oxygen (24-hour oxygen if resting SpO2 89-93%, otherwise oxygen only during sleep and exercise if the desaturation occurred only during exercise) or to usual care without supplemental oxygen. Supplemental oxygen flow rate was 2 liters per minute and could be uptitrated by protocol among patients with exercise-induced hypoxemia. The primary outcome was time to composite of first hospitalization or death. Secondary outcomes included hospitalization rates, lung function, performance on 6-minute walk test, and quality of life.

368 patients were randomized to the supplemental-oxygen group and 370 to the no-supplemental-oxygen group. Of the supplemental-oxygen group, 220 patients were prescribed 24-hour oxygen support, and 148 were prescribed oxygen for use during exercise and sleep only. Median duration of follow-up was 18.4 months. Regarding the primary outcome, there was no group difference in time to death or first hospitalization (p = 0.52 by log-rank test). See Figure 1A. Furthermore, there were no treatment-group differences in the primary outcome among patients of the following pre-specified subgroups: type of oxygen prescription, “desaturation profile,” race, sex, smoking status, SpO2 nadir during 6-minute walk, FEV1, BODE  index, SF-36 physical-component score, BMI, or history of anemia. Patients with a COPD exacerbation in the 1-2 months prior to enrollment, age 71+ at enrollment, and those with lower Quality of Well-Being Scale score at enrollment all demonstrated benefit from supplemental O2, but none of these subgroup treatment effects were sustained when the analyses were adjusted for multiple comparisons. Regarding secondary outcomes, there were no treatment-group differences in rates of all-cause hospitalizations, COPD-related hospitalizations, or non-COPD-related hospitalizations, and there were no differences in change from baseline measures of quality of life, anxiety, depression, lung function, and distance achieved in 6-minute walk.

The LOTT trial presents compelling evidence that there is no significant benefit, mortality or otherwise, of oxygen supplementation in patients with COPD and either moderate hypoxemia at rest (SpO2 > 88%) or exercise-induced hypoxemia. Although this trial’s substantial redesign in its early course is noted, the trial still is our best evidence to date about the benefit (or lack thereof) of oxygen in this patient group. As acknowledged by the authors, the trial may have had significant selection bias in referral. (Many physicians did not refer specific patients for enrollment because “they were too ill or [were believed to have benefited] from oxygen.”) Another notable limitation of this study is that nocturnal oxygen saturation was not evaluated. The authors do note that “some patients with COPD and severe nocturnal desaturation might benefit from nocturnal oxygen supplementation.”

For further contemporary contextualization of the study, please see the excellent post at PulmCCM from 11/2016. Included in that post is a link to an overview and Q&A from the NIH regarding the LOTT study.

References / Additional Reading:
1. PulmCCM, “Long-term oxygen brought no benefits for moderate hypoxemia in COPD”
2. LOTT @ 2 Minute Medicine
3. LOTT @ ClinicalTrials.gov
4. McDonald, J.H. 2014. Handbook of Biological Statistics (3rd ed.). Sparky House Publishing, Baltimore, Maryland.
5. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, “Certificate of Medical Necessity CMS-484– Oxygen”
6. Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2018 Dec;15(12):1369-1381. “Optimizing Home Oxygen Therapy. An Official American Thoracic Society Workshop Report.”

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Image Credit: Patrick McAleer, CC BY-SA 2.0 UK, via Wikimedia Commons

Week 34 – PLCO

“Mortality Results from a Randomized Prostate-Cancer Screening Trial”

by the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial project team

N Engl J Med. 2009 Mar 26;360(13):1310-9. [free full text]

The use of prostate-specific-antigen (PSA) testing to screen for prostate cancer has been a contentious subject for decades. Prior to the 2009 PLCO trial, there were no high-quality prospective studies of the potential benefit of PSA testing.

The trial enrolled men ages 55-74 (excluded if hx prostate, lung, or colorectal cancer, current cancer treatment, or > 1 PSA test in the past 3 years). Patients were randomized to annual PSA testing for 6 years with annual digital rectal exam (DRE) for 4 years or to usual care. The primary outcome was the prostate-cancer-attributable death rate, and the secondary outcome was the incidence of prostate cancer.

38,343 patients were randomized to the screening group, and 38,350 were randomized to the usual-care group. Baseline characteristics were similar in both groups. Median follow-up duration was 11.5 years. Patients in the screening group were 85% compliant with PSA testing and 86% compliant with DRE. In the usual-care group, 40% of patients received a PSA test within the first year, and 52% received a PSA test by the sixth year. Cumulative DRE rates in the usual-care group were between 40-50%. By seven years, there was no significant difference in rates of death attributable to prostate cancer. There were 50 deaths in the screening group and only 44 in the usual-care group (rate ratio 1.13, 95% CI 0.75 – 1.70). At ten years, there were 92 and 82 deaths in the respective groups (rate ratio 1.11, 95% CI 0.83–1.50). By seven years, there was a higher rate of prostate cancer detection in the screening group. 2820 patients were diagnosed in the screening group, but only 2322 were diagnosed in the usual-care group (rate ratio 1.22, 95% CI 1.16–1.29). By ten years, there were 3452 and 2974 diagnoses in the respective groups (rate ratio 1.17, 95% CI 1.11–1.22). Treatment-related complications (e.g. infection, incontinence, impotence) were not reported in this study.

In summary, yearly PSA screening increased the prostate cancer diagnosis rate but did not impact prostate-cancer mortality when compared to the standard of care. However, there were relatively high rates of PSA testing in the usual-care group (40-50%). The authors cite this finding as a probable major contributor to the lack of mortality difference. Other factors that may have biased to a null result were prior PSA testing and advances in treatments for prostate cancer during the trial. Regarding the former, 44% of men in both groups had already had one or more PSA tests prior to study enrollment. Prior PSA testing likely contributed to selection bias.

PSA screening recommendations prior to this 2009 study:

      • American Urological Association and American Cancer Society – recommended annual PSA and DRE, starting at age 50 if normal risk and earlier in high-risk men
      • National Comprehensive Cancer Network: “a risk-based screening algorithm, including family history, race, and age”
      • 2008 USPSTF Guidelines: insufficient evidence to determine balance between risks/benefits of PSA testing in men younger than 75; recommended against screening in age 75+ (Grade I Recommendation)

The authors of this study conclude that their results “support the validity of the recent [2008] recommendations of the USPSTF, especially against screening all men over the age of 75.”

However, the conclusions of the European Randomized Study of Screening for Prostate Cancer (ERSPC), which was published concurrently with PLCO in NEJM, differed. In ERSPC, PSA was screened every 4 years. The authors found an increased rate of detection of prostate cancer, but, more importantly, they found that screening decreased prostate cancer mortality (adjusted rate ratio 0.80, 95% CI 0.65–0.98, p = 0.04; NNT 1410 men receiving 1.7 screening visits over 9 years). Like PLCO, this study did not report treatment harms that may have been associated with overly zealous diagnosis.

The USPSTF reexamined its PSA guidelines in 2012. Given the lack of mortality benefit in PLCO, the pitiful mortality benefit in ERSPC, and the assumed harm from over-diagnosis and excessive intervention in patients who would ultimately not succumb to prostate cancer, the USPSTF concluded that PSA-based screening for prostate cancer should not be offered (Grade D Recommendation).

In the following years, the pendulum has swung back partially toward screening. In May 2018, the USPSTF released new recommendations that encourage men ages 55-69 to have an informed discussion with their physician about potential benefits and harms of PSA-based screening (Grade C Recommendation). The USPSTF continues to recommend against screening in patients over 70 years old (Grade D).

Screening for prostate cancer remains a complex and controversial topic. Guidelines from the American Cancer Society, American Urological Association, and USPSTF vary, but ultimately all recommend shared decision-making. UpToDate has a nice summary of talking points culled from several sources.

Further Reading/References:
#. PLCO @ 2 Minute Medicine
#. ERSPC @ Wiki Journal Club
#. UpToDate, Screening for Prostate Cancer

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Image Credit: Otis Brawley, Public Domain, NIH National Cancer Institute Visuals Online

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 30 – Bicarbonate and Progression of CKD

“Bicarbonate Supplementation Slows Progression of CKD and Improves Nutritional Status”

J Am Soc Nephrol. 2009 Sep;20(9):2075-84. [free full text]

Metabolic acidosis is a common complication of advanced CKD. Some animal models of CKD have suggested that worsening metabolic acidosis is associated with worsening proteinuria, tubulointerstitial fibrosis, and acceleration of decline of renal function. Short-term human studies have demonstrated that bicarbonate administration reduces protein catabolism and that metabolic acidosis is an independent risk factor for acceleration of decline of renal function. However, until this 2009 study by de Brito-Ashurst et al., there were no long-term studies demonstrating the beneficial effects of oral bicarbonate administration on CKD progression and nutritional status.

The study enrolled CKD patients with CrCl 15-30ml/min and plasma bicarbonate 16-20 mEq/L and randomized them to treatment with either sodium bicarbonate 600mg PO TID (with protocolized uptitration to achieve plasma HCO3  ≥ 23 mEq/L) for 2 years, or to routine care. The primary outcomes were: 1) the decline in CrCl at 2 years, 2) “rapid progression of renal failure” (defined as decline of CrCl > 3 ml/min per year), and 3) development of ESRD requiring dialysis. Secondary outcomes included 1) change in dietary protein intake, 2) change in normalized protein nitrogen appearance (nPNA), 3) change in serum albumin, and 4) change in mid-arm muscle circumference.

134 patients were randomized, and baseline characteristics were similar among the two groups. Serum bicarbonate levels increased significantly in the treatment arm. (See Figure 2.) At two years, CrCl decline was 1.88 ml/min in the treatment group vs. 5.93 ml/min in the control group (p < 0.01). Rapid progression of renal failure was noted in 9% of intervention group vs. 45% of the control group (RR 0.15, 95% CI 0.06–0.40, p < 0.0001, NNT = 2.8), and ESRD developed in 6.5% of the intervention group vs. 33% of the control group (RR 0.13, 95% CI 0.04–0.40, p < 0.001; NNT = 3.8). Regarding nutritional status, dietary protein intake increased in the treatment group relative to the control group (p < 0.007). Normalized protein nitrogen appearance decreased in the treatment group and increased in the control group (p < 0.002). Serum albumin increased in the treatment group but was unchanged in the control group, and mean mid-arm muscle circumference increased by 1.5 cm in the intervention group vs. no change in the control group (p < 0.03).

In conclusion, oral bicarbonate supplementation in CKD patients with metabolic acidosis reduces the rate of CrCl decline and progression to ESRD and improves nutritional status. Primarily on the basis of this study, the KDIGO 2012 guidelines for the management of CKD recommend oral bicarbonate supplementation to maintain serum bicarbonate within the normal range (23-29 mEq/L). This is a remarkably cheap and effective intervention. Importantly, the rates of adverse events, particularly worsening hypertension and increasing edema, were unchanged among the two groups. Of note, sodium bicarbonate induces much less volume expansion than a comparable sodium load of sodium chloride.

In their discussion, the authors suggest that their results support the hypothesis of Nath et al. (1985) that “compensatory changes [in the setting of metabolic acidosis] such as increased ammonia production and the resultant complement cascade activation in remnant tubules in the declining renal mass [are] injurious to the tubulointerstitium.” The hypercatabolic state of advanced CKD appears to be mitigated by bicarbonate supplementation. The authors note that “an optimum nutritional status has positive implications on the clinical outcomes of dialysis patients, whereas [protein-energy wasting] is associated with increased morbidity and mortality.”

Limitations to this trial include its open-label, no-placebo design. Also, the applicable population is limited by study exclusion criteria of morbid obesity, overt CHF, and uncontrolled HTN.

Further Reading:
1. Nath et al. “Pathophysiology of chronic tubulo-interstitial disease in rats: Interactions of dietary acid load, ammonia, and complement component-C3” (1985)
2. KDIGO 2012 Clinical Practice Guideline for the Evaluation and Management of Chronic Kidney Disease (see page 89)
3. UpToDate, “Pathogenesis, consequences, and treatment of metabolic acidosis in chronic kidney disease”

Week 25 – ALLHAT

“Major Outcomes in High-Risk Hypertensive Patients Randomized to Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitor or Calcium Channel Blocker vs. Diuretic”

The Antihypertensive and Lipid-Lowering Treatment to Prevent Heart Attack Trial (ALLHAT)

JAMA. 2002 Dec 18;288(23):2981-97. [free full text]

Hypertension is a ubiquitous disease, and the cardiovascular and mortality benefits of BP control have been well described. However, as the number of available antihypertensive classes proliferated in the past several decades, a head-to-head comparison of different antihypertensive regimens was necessary to determine the optimal first-step therapy. The 2002 ALLHAT trial was a landmark trial in this effort.

Population:
33,357 patients aged 55 years or older with hypertension and at least one other coronary heart disease (CHD) risk factor (previous MI or stroke, LVH by ECG or echo, T2DM, current cigarette smoking, HDL < 35 mg/dL, or documentation of other atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (CVD)). Notable exclusion criteria: history of hospitalization for CHF, history of treated symptomatic CHF, or known LVEF < 35%.

Intervention:
Prior antihypertensives were discontinued upon initiation of the study drug. Patients were randomized to one of three study drugs in a double-blind fashion. Study drugs and additional drugs were added in a step-wise fashion to achieve a goal BP < 140/90 mmHg.

Step 1: titrate assigned study drug

  • chlorthalidone: 12.5 –> 5 (sham titration) –> 25 mg/day
  • amlodipine: 2.5 –> 5 –>  10 mg/day
  • lisinopril: 10 –> 20 –> 40 mg/day

Step 2: add open-label agents at treating physician’s discretion (atenolol, clonidine, or reserpine)

  • atenolol: 25 to 100 mg/day
  • reserpine: 0.05 to 0.2 mg/day
  • clonidine: 0.1 to 0.3 mg BID

Step 3: add hydralazine 25 to 100 mg BID

Comparison:
Pairwise comparisons with respect to outcomes of chlorthalidone vs. either amlodipine or lisinopril. A doxazosin arm existed initially, but it was terminated early due to an excess of CV events, primarily driven by CHF.

Outcomes:
Primary –  combined fatal CAD or nonfatal MI

Secondary

  • all-cause mortality
  • fatal and nonfatal stroke
  • combined CHD (primary outcome, PCI, or hospitalized angina)
  • combined CVD (CHD, stroke, non-hospitalized treated angina, CHF [fatal, hospitalized, or treated non-hospitalized], and PAD)

Results:
Over a mean follow-up period of 4.9 years, there was no difference between the groups in either the primary outcome or all-cause mortality.

When compared with chlorthalidone at 5 years, the amlodipine and lisinopril groups had significantly higher systolic blood pressures (by 0.8 mmHg and 2 mmHg, respectively). The amlodipine group had a lower diastolic blood pressure when compared to the chlorthalidone group (0.8 mmHg).

When comparing amlodipine to chlorthalidone for the pre-specified secondary outcomes, amlodipine was associated with an increased risk of heart failure (RR 1.38; 95% CI 1.25-1.52).

When comparing lisinopril to chlorthalidone for the pre-specified secondary outcomes, lisinopril was associated with an increased risk of stroke (RR 1.15; 95% CI 1.02-1.30), combined CVD (RR 1.10; 95% CI 1.05-1.16), and heart failure (RR 1.20; 95% CI 1.09-1.34). The increased risk of stroke was mostly driven by 3 subgroups: women (RR 1.22; 95% CI 1.01-1.46), blacks (RR 1.40; 95% CI 1.17-1.68), and non-diabetics (RR 1.23; 95% CI 1.05-1.44). The increased risk of CVD was statistically significant in all subgroups except in patients aged less than 65. The increased risk of heart failure was statistically significant in all subgroups.

Discussion:
In patients with hypertension and one risk factor for CAD, chlorthalidone, lisinopril, and amlodipine performed similarly in reducing the risks of fatal CAD and nonfatal MI.

The study has several strengths: a large and diverse study population, a randomized, double-blind structure, and the rigorous evaluation of three of the most commonly prescribed “newer” classes of antihypertensives. Unfortunately, neither an ARB nor an aldosterone antagonist was included in the study. Additionally, the step-up therapies were not reflective of contemporary practice. (Instead, patients would likely be prescribed one or more of the primary study drugs.)

The ALLHAT study is one of the hallmark studies of hypertension and has played an important role in hypertension guidelines since it was published. Following the publication of ALLHAT, thiazide diuretics became widely used as first line drugs in the treatment of hypertension. The low cost of thiazides and their limited side-effect profile are particularly attractive class features. While ALLHAT looked specifically at chlorthalidone, in practice the positive findings were attributed to HCTZ, which has been more often prescribed. The authors of ALLHAT argued that the superiority of thiazides was likely a class effect, but according to the analysis at Wiki Journal Club, “there is little direct evidence that HCTZ specifically reduces the incidence of CVD among hypertensive individuals.” Furthermore, a 2006 study noted that that HCTZ has worse 24-hour BP control than chlorthalidone due to a shorter half-life. The ALLHAT authors note that “since a large proportion of participants required more than 1 drug to control their BP, it is reasonable to infer that a diuretic be included in all multi-drug regimens, if possible.” The 2017 ACC/AHA High Blood Pressure Guidelines state that, of the four thiazide diuretics on the market, chlorthalidone is preferred because of a prolonged half-life and trial-proven reduction of CVD (via the ALLHAT study).

Further Reading / References:
1. 2017 ACC Hypertension Guidelines
2. Wiki Journal Club
3. 2 Minute Medicine
4. Ernst et al, “Comparative antihypertensive effects of hydrochlorothiazide and chlorthalidone on ambulatory and office blood pressure.” (2006)
5. Gillis Pharmaceuticals [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HOxuAtehumc]
6. Concepts in Hypertension, Volume 2 Issue 6

Summary by Ryan Commins MD

Image Credit: Kimivanil, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Week 18 – Early Palliative Care in NSCLC

“Early Palliative Care for Patients with Metastatic Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer”

N Engl J Med. 2010 Aug 19;363(8):733-42 [free full text]

Ideally, palliative care improves a patient’s quality of life while facilitating appropriate usage of healthcare resources. However, initiating palliative care late in a disease course or in the inpatient setting may limit these beneficial effects. This 2010 study by Temel et al. sought to demonstrate benefits of early integrated palliative care on patient-reported quality-of-life (QoL) outcomes and resource utilization.

The study enrolled outpatients with metastatic NSCLC diagnosed < 8 weeks ago and ECOG performance status 0-2 and randomized them to either “early palliative care” (met with palliative MD/ARNP within 3 weeks of enrollment and at least monthly afterward) or to standard oncologic care. The primary outcome was the change in Trial Outcome Index (TOI) from baseline to 12 weeks.

TOI = sum of the lung cancer, physical well-being, and functional well-being subscales of the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy­–Lung (FACT-L) scale (scale range 0-84, higher score = better function)

Secondary outcomes included:

  1. change in FACT-L score at 12 weeks (scale range 0-136)
  2. change in lung cancer subscale of FACT-L at 12 weeks (scale range 0-28)
  3. “aggressive care,” meaning one of the following: chemo within 14 days before death, lack of hospice care, or admission to hospice ≤ 3 days before death
  4. documentation of resuscitation preference in outpatient records
  5. prevalence of depression at 12 weeks per HADS and PHQ-9
  6. median survival

151 patients were randomized. Palliative-care patients (n=77) had a mean TOI increase of 2.3 points vs. a 2.3-point decrease in the standard-care group (n=73) (p=0.04). Median survival was 11.6 months in the palliative group vs. 8.9 months in the standard group (p=0.02). (See Figure 3 on page 741 for the Kaplan-Meier curve.) Prevalence of depression at 12 weeks per PHQ-9 was 4% in palliative patients vs. 17% in standard patients (p = 0.04). Aggressive end-of-life care was received in 33% of palliative patients vs. 53% of standard patients (p=0.05). Resuscitation preferences were documented in 53% of palliative patients vs. 28% of standard patients (p=0.05). There was no significant change in FACT-L score or lung cancer subscale score at 12 weeks.

Implication/Discussion:
Early palliative care in patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer improved quality of life and mood, decreased aggressive end-of-life care, and improved survival. This is a landmark study, both for its quantification of the QoL benefits of palliative intervention and for its seemingly counterintuitive finding that early palliative care actually improved survival.

The authors hypothesized that the demonstrated QoL and mood improvements may have led to the increased survival, as prior studies had associated lower QoL and depressed mood with decreased survival. However, I find more compelling their hypotheses that “the integration of palliative care with standard oncologic care may facilitate the optimal and appropriate administration of anticancer therapy, especially during the final months of life” and earlier referral to a hospice program may result in “better management of symptoms, leading to stabilization of [the patient’s] condition and prolonged survival.”

In practice, this study and those that followed have further spurred the integration of palliative care into many standard outpatient oncology workflows, including features such as co-located palliative care teams and palliative-focused checklists/algorithms for primary oncology providers. Of note, in the inpatient setting, a recent meta-analysis concluded that early hospital palliative care consultation was associated with a $3200 reduction in direct hospital costs ($4250 in subgroup of patients with cancer).

Further Reading/References:
1. ClinicalTrials.gov
2. Wiki Journal Club
3. Profile of first author Dr. Temel
4. “Economics of Palliative Care for Hospitalized Adults with Serious Illness: A Meta-analysis” JAMA Internal Medicine (2018)
5. UpToDate, “Benefits, services, and models of subspecialty palliative care”

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Week 5 – IDNT

“Renoprotective Effect of the Angiotensin-Receptor Antagonist Irbesartan in Patients with Nephropathy Due to Type 2 Diabetes”

aka the Irbesartan Diabetic Nephropathy Trial (IDNT)

N Engl J Med. 2001 Sep 20;345(12):851-60. [free full text]

Diabetes mellitus is the most common cause of ESRD in the US. In 1993, a landmark study in NEJM demonstrated that captopril (vs. placebo) slowed the deterioration in renal function in patients with T1DM. However, prior to this 2002 study, no study had addressed definitively whether a similar improvement in renal outcomes could be achieved with RAAS blockade in patients with T2DM. Irbesartan (Avapro) is an angiotensin II receptor blocker that was first approved in 1997 for the treatment of hypertension. Its marketer, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, sponsored this trial in hopes of broadening the market for its relatively new drug.

This trial randomized patients with T2DM, hypertension, and nephropathy (per proteinuria and elevated Cr) to treatment with either irbesartan, amlodipine, or placebo. The drug in each arm was titrated to achieve a target SBP ≤ 135, and all patients were allowed non-ACEi/non-ARB/non-CCB drugs as needed. The primary outcome was a composite of the doubling of serum Cr, onset of ESRD, or all-cause mortality. Secondary outcomes included individual components of the primary outcome and a composite cardiovascular outcome.

1715 patients were randomized. The mean blood pressure after the baseline visit was 140/77 in the irbesartan group, 141/77 in the amlodipine group, and 144/80 in the placebo group (p = 0.001 for pairwise comparisons of MAP between irbesartan or amlodipine and placebo). Regarding the primary composite renal endpoint, the unadjusted relative risk was 0.80 (95% CI 0.66-0.97, p = 0.02) for irbesartan vs. placebo, 1.04 (95% CI 0.86-1.25, p = 0.69) for amlodipine vs. placebo, and 0.77 (0.63-0.93, p = 0.006) for irbesartan vs. amlodipine. The groups also differed with respect to individual components of the primary outcome. The unadjusted relative risk of creatinine doubling was 33% lower among irbesartan patients than among placebo patients (p = 0.003) and was 37% lower than among amlodipine patients (p < 0.001). The relative risks of ESRD and all-cause mortality did not differ significantly among the groups. There were no significant group differences with respect to the composite cardiovascular outcome. Importantly, a sensitivity analysis was performed which demonstrated that the conclusions of the primary analysis were not impacted significantly by adjustment for mean arterial pressure achieved during follow-up.

In summary, irbesartan treatment in T2DM resulted in superior renal outcomes when compared to both placebo and amlodipine. This beneficial effect was independent of blood pressure lowering. This was a well-designed, double-blind, randomized, controlled trial. However, it was industry-sponsored, and in retrospect, its choice of study drug seems quaint. The direct conclusion of this trial is that irbesartan is renoprotective in T2DM. In the discussion of IDNT, the authors hypothesize that “the mechanism of renoprotection by agents that block the action of angiotensin II may be complex, involving hemodynamic factors that lower the intraglomerular pressure, the beneficial effects of diminished proteinuria, and decreased collagen formation that may be related to decreased stimulation of transforming growth factor beta by angiotensin II.” In September 2002, on the basis of this trial, the FDA broadened the official indication of irbesartan to include the treatment of type 2 diabetic nephropathy. This trial was published concurrently in NEJM with the RENAAL trial. RENAAL was a similar trial of losartan vs. placebo in T2DM and demonstrated a similar reduction in the doubling of serum creatinine as well as a 28% reduction in progression to ESRD. In conjunction with the original 1993 ACEi in T1DM study, these two 2002 ARB in T2DM studies led to the overall notion of a renoprotective class effect of ACEis/ARBs in diabetes. Enalapril and lisinopril’s patents expired in 2000 and 2002, respectively. Shortly afterward, generic, once-daily ACE inhibitors entered the US market. Ultimately, such drugs ended up commandeering much of the diabetic-nephropathy-in-T2DM market share for which irbesartan’s owners had hoped.

Further Reading/References:
1. “The effect of angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibition on diabetic nephropathy. The Collaborative Study Group.” NEJM 1993.
2. CSG Captopril Trial @ Wiki Journal Club
3. IDNT @ Wiki Journal Club
4. IDNT @ 2 Minute Medicine
5. US Food and Drug Administration, New Drug Application #020757
6. RENAAL @ Wiki Journal Club
7. RENAAL @ 2 Minute Medicine

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Week 47 – VA NEPHRON-D

“Combined Angiotensin Inhibition for the Treatment of Diabetic Nephropathy”

by the Veterans Affairs Nephropathy in Diabetes (VA NEPHRON-D) Investigators

N Engl J Med. 2013 Nov 14;369(20):1892-903. [free full text]

Inhibition of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS) decreases the progression of proteinuric kidney disease, such as diabetic nephropathy. Prior studies have demonstrated that the greater the proteinuria is reduced by RAAS inhibition, the slower the further loss of GFR. Therefore, it had been hypothesized that combination RAAS inhibition with both an ACEi and an ARB in diabetic kidney disease would reduce the rate of renal decline and incidence of ESRD. The investigators of the VA NEPHRON-D trial hypothesized that “the benefit in slowing the progression of kidney disease would outweigh the risks of hyperkalemia and AKI associated with more intensive blockade of the RAAS.”

Population: US veterans with T2DM, eGFR 30.0-89.9 ml/min, and urinary albumin/Cr ratio ≥ 300

Notable exclusion criteria: nondiabetic kidney disease, K > 5.5, current treatment with sodium polystyrene sulfonate (Kayexalate)

Intervention: losartan 100mg PO daily and lisinopril 10mg, uptitrated q2 weeks to 20mg and then 40mg, respectively, as tolerated (meaning no hyperkalemia or Cr rise > 30%)

Comparison: losartan 100mg PO daily and placebo, uptitrated q2 weeks as tolerated

(Note: prior to randomization, there was a run-in period with uptitration to target dose of losartan to ensure hyperkalemia did not develop prior to initiating the study drug.)

Outcome:
Primary – time to first occurrence of composite endpoint of decline in eGFR (≥ 30 ml/min if baseline eGFR ≥60 ml/min, or relative decrease of ≥ 50% if baseline eGFR < 60 ml/min), ESRD, or death

Secondary, selected:

  • first occurrence of decline in eGFR or ESRD
  • ESRD
  • cardiovascular events (MI, stroke, or hospitalization for CHF)
  • all-cause mortality
  • hyperkalemia (> 6, or requiring ED visit/hospitalization/dialysis)
  • AKI


Results
:
724 patients were randomized to each treatment arm. Baseline characteristics were similar among the two groups. The trial was stopped early after the data and safety monitoring committee found increased rates of serious adverse events, hyperkalemia, and AKI in the combination-therapy group. Median follow-up at time of study closure was 2.2 years.

132 patients in the combination-therapy group (18.2%) and 152 patients in the monotherapy group (21.0%) met the primary composite endpoint of decline in eGFR, ESRD, or death (p = 0.30).

Decline in eGFR or progression to ESRD occurred in 77 (10.6%) of the combination-therapy group and 101 (14.0%) of the monotherapy group (p = 0.10). There were also no significant group differences in the individual rates of ESRD, all-cause mortality, or MI/stroke/CHF.

AKI events occurred 190 times in 130 patients in the combination-therapy group (12.2 events per 100 person-years). In comparison, there were only 105 AKI events in 80 patients in the monotherapy group (6.7 events per 100 person-years) [HR 1.7, 95% CI 1.3-2.2, p < 0.001]. Hyperkalemia occurred in 72 (9.9%) of the combination-therapy patients versus 32 (4.4%) of the monotherapy patients (p < 0.001).

Implication/Discussion:
Among patients with T2DM, CKD, and proteinuria, combination therapy with an ARB and ACEi did not reduce the progression of kidney disease or mortality relative to an ARB alone; in fact, combination therapy increased the risks of AKI and hyperkalemia.

This was a well-designed, double-blind, randomized, controlled trial with definitive results. Its results align with those of its contemporary studies ONTARGET (2008, combination ARB and ACEi vs. monotherapy) and ALTITUDE (2012, ARB or ACEi plus the direct renin inhibitor aliskiren vs. ARB or ACEi monotherapy), which demonstrated no benefit and increased adverse event rates with combination therapy.

Although dual RAAS blockade reduces proteinuria in diabetic nephropathy greater than monotherapy, it is not recommended currently due to a lack of benefit and increased adverse events.

Further Reading/References:
1. VA NEPHRON-D @ Wiki Journal Club
2. ONTARGET @ Wiki Journal Club
3. ALTITUDE @ PubMed

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD

Week 45 – Look AHEAD

“Cardiovascular Effects of Intensive Lifestyle Intervention in Type 2 Diabetes”

by the Look AHEAD (Action for Health in Diabetes) Research Group

N Engl J Med. 2013 Jul 11;369(2):145-54. [free full text]

NIH treatment guidelines recommend weight loss in patients with T2DM and overweight or obesity. Such weight loss is associated with improvements in glycemic control, hypertension, and quality of life. While retrospective cohort studies and a prospective trial of bariatric surgery in T2DM suggested that weight loss was associated with reduction in rates of cardiovascular events and mortality, no prospective trial has demonstrated such benefits from non-surgical weight loss. The Look AHEAD study was designed to determine if aggressive lifestyle intervention for weight loss in T2DM could provide benefits in hard cardiovascular outcomes.

Population: patients with T2DM, age 45-75, and BMI 25+ (27+ if on insulin), A1c < 11%, SBP < 160 mmHg, DBP < 100 mmHg, and the ability to complete a maximal exercise test

Intervention: an “intensive lifestyle intervention” with goal weight loss ≥ 7.0%, implemented via weekly group and individual counseling (decreasing in frequency over course of study). Specific recommended interventions: caloric restriction to 1200-1800 kcal/day, use of meal-replacement products, ≥ 175 min/wk of moderate-intensity exercise

Comparison: “diabetes support and education” comprised of three group meetings per year focused on diet, exercise, and social support (yearly meetings starting year 5)
Outcome:
Primary – composite of death from cardiovascular causes, nonfatal myocardial infarction, nonfatal stroke, and hospitalization for angina.

Of note, hospitalization for angina was not a pre-specified component of the primary outcome. It was added 2 years into the trial after event rates of the other cardiovascular components were lower than expected.

Secondary

  • composite of death from cardiovascular causes, nonfatal MI, nonfatal stroke (the original primary outcome)
  • composite of death (all-cause), nonfatal MI, nonfatal stroke, hospitalization for angina
  • composite of death (all-cause), nonfatal MI, stroke, hospitalization for angina, CABG, PCI, hospitalization for heart failure, or peripheral vascular disease

Results:
2570 patients were randomized to the intensive lifestyle intervention (ILI) group, and 2575 were randomized to the diabetes support and education (DSE) group. Baseline characteristics were similar in both groups. Mean BMI was 36.0, and 14% of patients had a history of cardiovascular disease.

At one year, mean weight loss from baseline was 8.6% in the ILI group and 0.7% in the DSE group (p < 0.001); however, weight loss at the end of the study was 6.0% in the ILI group and 3.5% in the DSE group (p < 0.001). The average group difference in A1c was 0.22% lower in the ILI group (p < 0.001) although A1c values were slightly higher than baseline in both groups at the end of the study (see Figure 1D for the time course).

The trial was terminated prematurely after interim analysis revealed that the likelihood of a significant positive primary result was approximately 1%. Median follow up was 9.6 years at the time of termination.

There was no group difference in rates of the primary composite cardiovascular endpoint. The endpoint occurred in 403 patients in the ILI group and 418 patients in the DSE group (1.83 and 1.92 events per 100 person-years, respectively; HR 0.95, 95% CI 0.83-1.09, p = 0.51).

There were no group differences in rates of the secondary composite outcomes.

Implication/Discussion:
Among patients with T2DM and overweight or obesity, an intensive lifestyle intervention for weight loss was not associated with improved cardiovascular outcomes, when compared to a control group-based diabetes support and education intervention.

Overall, this trial was a notable failure. Despite the trial’s adequate power and its authors shifting the goalposts at 2 years into the study, the intervention did not demonstrate “hard” cardiovascular benefits. Furthermore, generalizability of this study is limited by its exclusion of patients who could not complete a maximal-fitness test at baseline. With respect to diet, this trial did not address diet composition, only caloric restriction and increased physical activity.

The authors suggest that “a sustained weight loss of more than that achieved in the intervention group may be required to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease,” and thus the trial failed to return a positive result.

Weight loss in patients with T2DM and overweight or obesity remains a Class A recommendation by the American Diabetes Association. The ADA also notes that weight loss may be achieved at 2 years with a “Mediterranean” diet. The 2013 PREDIMED study demonstrated that such a diet reduces the risk of ASCVD in high-risk patients.

Further Reading/References:
1. Look AHEAD @ Wiki Journal Club
2. American Diabetes Association. “Executive Summary: Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes – 2013.”
3. PREDIMED @ Wiki Journal Club

Summary by Duncan F. Moore, MD