Main results from the landmark EMPEROR-Preserved trial, reported in August, established for the first time that treatment with a drug, the sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 inhibitor empagliflozin, could clearly benefit patients with heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF).
The only caveat was that EMPEROR-Preserved enrolled patients with a left ventricular ejection fraction of at least 41%, while “true” HFpEF means patients with heart failure and an LVEF of at least 50%, according to recent definitions. About one-third of the 5,988 patients enrolled in EMPEROR-Preserved had an LVEF of 41%-49%, heart failure with mildly reduced ejection fraction.
Secondary analysis from the EMPEROR-Preserved trial has now resolved this ambiguity by showing that, among the 4,005 patients (67%) enrolled in the trial with an LVEF of at least 50%, treatment with empagliflozin (Jardiance) reduced the study’s primary endpoint – cardiovascular death or first hospitalization for heart failure – by a significant 17%, relative to patients who received placebo, dismissing any doubt about the relevance of the overall finding to the subgroup of patients with unmitigated HFpEF.
“This is the first large-scale trial to document meaningful and significant improvements associated with drug therapy in patients with ‘true’ HFpEF,” Stefan D. Anker, MD, said in presenting the results at the American Heart Association scientific sessions.
Streamlining heart failure treatment
The demonstration that empagliflozin is an effective – and safe – treatment for patients with HFpEF not only provides a new treatment for a disorder that until now had no evidence-based intervention, but also streamlines the management approach for treating patients with heart failure with an agent from empagliflozin’s class, the SGLT2 inhibitors, commented Mary Norine Walsh, MD, medical director of the heart failure and cardiac transplantation programs at Ascension St. Vincent Heart Center in Indianapolis.
That’s because empagliflozin has shown significant and consistent benefit across essentially the full range of LVEFs seen in patients with heart failure based on its performance in EMPEROR-Preserved as well as in a mirror-image trial, EMPEROR-Reduced, run in patients with heart failure with reduced ejection fraction.
“Clinicians do not need to stop and assess LVEF with echocardiography or other imaging before they decide on how to treat heart failure patients” with an SGLT2 inhibitor, noted Dr. Walsh, a designated discussant for the report. “Clinicians who are busy can now refer less to LVEF than to the patient’s phenotype.”
Treatment prevents hospitalization for heart failure
The more-detailed data reported by Dr. Anker also strengthened the case that the benefit from empagliflozin in patients with an LVEF of at least 50% mostly came from a reduction in hospitalizations for heart failure (HHF), which dropped following start of empagliflozin treatment by a relative 22%, compared with placebo for first HHF, a significant decline, and by a relative 17% for total HHF, a reduction that missed significance in this secondary analysis. The other half of the primary endpoint, cardiovascular death, declined by a nonsignificant 11% with empagliflozin treatment, compared with placebo in patients with clear-cut HFpEF.
The significant reduction in first HHF is, by itself, sufficient reason to use empagliflozin (or possibly a different SGLT2 inhibitor) in patients with HFpEF, maintained Clyde W. Yancy, MD, professor and chief of cardiology at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago.
“Attenuated HHF is a meaningful outcome,” stressed Dr. Yancy, also a discussant for the study. “This is the first time we’ve had evidence supporting that we can change the natural history of patients with HFpEF. While we still need to find interventions that save lives, we cannot overlook that this treatment can improve morbidity, and we cannot overlook that patient quality of life is better.”
Further benefits in patients with an LVEF of at least 50%
Dr. Anker, professor of cardiology and metabolism at Charité Medical University in Berlin, also reported results from several other analyses that further defined the effect of empagliflozin on clinical outcomes of patients with “true” HFpEF:
- The impact of empagliflozin, compared with placebo, for reducing both the study’s combined, primary outcome as well as total HHF was statistically consistent across all strata of LVEF, from 50% to greater than 70%. However, both outcome measures also showed a puzzling loss of benefit among patients with an LVEF of 65%-69%. In prior reports, a researcher on the EMPEROR-Preserved team, Milton Packer, MD, speculated that some patients in this LVEF stratum might not actually have had heart failure but instead had a different disorder that mimicked heart failure in clinical presentation, such as atrial fibrillation.
- Patients’ quality of life as measured by the Kansas City Cardiomyopathy Questionnaire showed a consistent benefit from empagliflozin treatment, compared with placebo, both in patients with an LVEF of at least 50% as well as in those with an LVEF of 41%-49%. In both subgroups the adjusted mean difference from placebo was significant and about 1.5 points.
- Patients showed a significant improvement in average New York Heart Association functional class while on treatment, and a strong trend toward less deterioration in functional class while on treatment.
- Deterioration of renal function on treatment slowed by an average 1.24 mL/min per 1.73 m2 per year in patients on empagliflozin, compared with placebo, in the subgroup with an LVEF of at least 50%.
Dr. Anker also reported the primary outcome and component results for the subgroup of patients with a baseline LVEF of 41%-49%. These patients had what looked like a “bigger magnitude” of effect from treatment, he noted, showing a significant 29% relative decline in the primary endpoint, compared with placebo-treated patients, and a significant 42% relative drop in first HHF and a significant 43% relative decline in total HHF, compared with placebo.
The primary analysis from EMPEROR-Preserved, which included all 5,988 randomized patients with heart failure and an LVEF of 41% or greater, showed a significant reduction in the combined, primary endpoint with empagliflozin treatment of 21%, compared with control patients during a median follow-up of about 26 months. The absolute rate reduction of the combined primary endpoint was 3.3% during 26-months’ follow-up. Statistical tests have shown no heterogeneity of this effect by diabetes status (49% of patients had diabetes), nor by renal function down to an estimated glomerular filtration rate at entry as low as 20 mL/min per 1.73 m2.
EMPEROR-Preserved was sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim and Lilly, the two companies that market empagliflozin (Jardiance). Dr. Anker has been a consultant to Boehringer Ingelheim as well as to Abbott Vascular, Bayer, Brahms, Cardiac Dimensions, Cordio, Novartis, Servier, and Vifor. Dr. Walsh and Dr. Yancy had no disclosures.