Conference Coverage

Secondary CV prevention benefit from polypill promises global health benefit



Compared with separate medications in patients with a prior myocardial infarction, a single pill containing aspirin, a lipid-lowering agent, and an ACE inhibitor provided progressively greater protection from a second cardiovascular (CV) event over the course of a trial with several years of follow-up, according to results of a multinational trial.

“The curves began to separate at the very beginning of the trial, and they are continuing to separate, so we can begin to project the possibility that the results would be even more striking if we had an even longer follow-up,” said Valentin Fuster, MD, physician in chief, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, who presented the results at the annual congress of the European Society of Cardiology.

Dr. Valentin Fuster, Physician in Chief, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York MDedge News/Mitchel L. Zoler

Dr. Valentin Fuster

By “striking,” Dr. Fuster was referring to a 24% reduction in the hazard ratio of major adverse CV events (MACE) for a trial in which patients were followed for a median of 3 years. The primary composite endpoint consisted of cardiovascular death, MI, stroke, and urgent revascularization (HR, 0.76; P = .02).

AS for the secondary composite endpoint, confined to CV death, MI, and stroke, use of the polypill linked to an even greater relative advantage over usual care (HR, 0.70; P = .005).

SECURE trial is latest test of polypill concept

A polypill strategy has been pursued for more than 15 years, according to Dr. Fuster. Other polypill studies have also generated positive results, but the latest trial, called SECURE, is the largest prospective randomized trial to evaluate a single pill combining multiple therapies for secondary prevention.

The degree of relative benefit has “huge implications for clinical care,” reported the ESC-invited commentator, Louise Bowman, MBBS, MD, professor of medicine and clinical trials, University of Oxford (England). She called the findings “in line with what was expected,” but she agreed that the results will drive practice change.

The SECURE trial, published online in the New England Journal of Medicine at the time of its presentation at the ESC congress, randomized 2,499 patients over the age of 65 years who had a MI within the previous 6 months and at least one other risk factor, such as diabetes mellitus, kidney dysfunction, or a prior coronary revascularization. They were enrolled at 113 participating study centers in seven European countries.

Multiple polypill versions permit dose titration

The polypill consisted of aspirin in a fixed dose of 100 mg, the HMG CoA reductase inhibitor atorvastatin, and the ACE inhibitor ramipril. For atorvastatin and ramipril, the target doses were 40 mg and 10 mg, respectively, but different versions of the polypill were available to permit titration to a tolerated dose. Usual care was provided by participating investigators according to ESC recommendations.

The average age of those enrolled was 76 years. Nearly one-third (31%) were women. At baseline, most had hypertension (77.9%), and the majority had diabetes (57.4%).

When the events in the primary endpoint were assessed individually, the polypill was associated with a 33% relative reduction in the risk of CV death (HR, 0.67; P = .03). The reductions in the risk of nonfatal MI (HR, 0.71) and stroke (HR, 0.70) were of the same general magnitude although they did not reach statistical significance. There was no meaningful reduction in urgent revascularization (HR, 0.96).

In addition, the reduction in all-cause mortality (HR, 0.97) was not significant.

The rate of adverse events over the course of the study was 32.7% in the polypill group and 31.6% in the usual-care group, which did not differ significantly. There was also no difference in types of adverse events, including bleeding and other adverse events of interest, according to Dr. Fuster.

Adherence, which was monitored at 6 and 24 months using the Morisky Medication Adherence Scale, was characterized as low, medium, or high. More patients in the polypill group reached high adherence at 6 months (70.6% vs. 62.7%) and at 24 months (74.1% vs. 63.2%). Conversely, fewer patients in the polypill group were deemed to have low adherence at both time points.

“Probably, adherence is the most important reason of how this works,” Dr. Fuster said. Although there were no substantial differences in lipid levels or in systolic or diastolic blood pressure between the two groups when compared at 24 months, there are several theories that might explain the lower event rates in the polypill group, including a more sustained anti-inflammatory effect from greater adherence.

One potential limitation was the open-label design, but Dr. Bowman said that this was unavoidable, given the difficulty of blinding and the fact that comparing a single pill with multiple pills was “the point of the study.” She noted that the 14% withdrawal rate over the course of the trial, which was attributed largely to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the lower than planned enrollment (2,500 vs. a projected 3,000 patients) are also limitations, prohibiting “a more robust result,” but she did not dispute the conclusions.

Polypill benefit documented in all subgroups

While acknowledging these limitations, Dr. Fuster emphasized the consistency of these results with prior polypill studies and within the study. Of the 16 predefined subgroups, such as those created with stratifications for age, sex, comorbidities, and country of treatment, all benefited to a similar degree.

“This really validates the importance of the study,” Dr. Fuster said.

In addition to the implications for risk management globally, Dr. Fuster and others, including Dr. Bowman, spoke of the potential of a relatively inexpensive polypill to improve care in resource-limited settings. Despite the move toward greater personalization of medicine, Dr. Fuster called “simplicity the key to global health” initiatives.

Dr. Salim Yusuf, professor of medicine and director of the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. American Heart Association

Dr. Salim Yusuf

Salim Yusuf, MD, DPhil, a leader in international polypill research, agreed. He believes the supportive data for this approach are conclusive.

“There are four positive trials of the polypill now and collectively the data are overwhelmingly clear,” Dr. Yusuf, professor of medicine, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ont., said in an interview. “The polypill should be considered in secondary prevention as well as in primary prevention for high-risk individuals. We have estimated that, if it is used in even 50% of those who should get it, it would avoid 2 million premature deaths from CV disease and 6 million nonfatal events. The next step is to implement the findings.”

Dr. Fuster, Dr. Bowman, and Dr. Yusuf reported no potential conflicts of interest.

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