Interpreting Key Trials

JUPITER to Earth: A statin helps people with normal LDL-C and high hs-CRP, but what does it mean?

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ABSTRACTThe JUPITER trial (Justification for the Use of Statins in Prevention: an Intervention Trial Evaluating Rosuvastatin) (N Engl J Med 2008; 359:2195–2207) compared rosuvastatin (Crestor) 20 mg daily vs placebo in apparently healthy people who had levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) lower than 130 mg/dL but elevated levels (≥ 2 mg/L) of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP). Rosuvastatin treatment lowered LDL-C levels by 50% and hs-CRP levels by 37%, accompanied by a 44% relative risk reduction in the composite end point of unstable angina, revascularization, and confirmed death from cardiovascular causes. In absolute terms, 95 people had to be treated over 2 years to prevent one event. There was, however, a higher incidence of diabetes in the rosuvastatin group.

KEY POINTS

  • LDL-C is the current gold standard diagnostic marker of risk, and elevated values should be aggressively treated in both primary and secondary prevention.
  • The optional LDL-C goal of 70 mg/dL for patients at high risk may need to be extended to others at higher global risk, such as those with elevated hs-CRP.
  • Although elevated hs-CRP may identify some people with low LDL-C who are nevertheless at higher global risk, more sensitive and specific markers of risk are needed.


 

References

The medical community has struggled with two important questions for the past 10 years: When it comes to the low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) level, how low should one go and at what cost? And are there other markers of risk that can identify a higher-risk subpopulation in relatively healthy people? The JUPITER trial (Justification for the Use of Statins in Prevention: an Intervention Trial Evaluating Rosuvastatin) provided partial answers for these questions by finding that a highly potent statin lowered the risk of cardiovascular events in patients with “normal” LDL-C but elevated levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP). 1

In this article, we will critically evaluate the methods, results, and conclusions of the JUPITER trial. Additionally, we will discuss its limitations and areas of uncertainty.

BEFORE JUPITER

The LDL-C-lowering drugs called statins have revolutionized cardiovascular medicine. 2 They are beneficial in both the primary prevention setting and in acute coronary syndromes, stable angina, and unstable angina and can halt the progression of coronary artery disease—in some cases even resulting in modest regression of plaque. 3–6

Many experts have credited the reduction in LDL-C as being the sole factor responsible for the decrease in major adverse events seen with statin therapy. 7 However, statins have other, non-lipid-lowering properties, including anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, that may also contribute to their benefits. 8–15

One of the anti-inflammatory actions of statins is evidenced by lower levels of the acute-phase reactant CRP. 10,11,15,16 Measuring systemic CRP levels with a highly sensitive assay (yielding the so-called high-sensitivity or hs-CRP level) provides significant clinical prognostic value across a spectrum of clinical situations, ranging from risk screening in apparently healthy people to stable and unstable angina. 17–22 People with higher hs-CRP levels are, on average, at higher risk of adverse cardiovascular events. However, controversy remains as to whether hs-CRP plays a mechanistic role in plaque formation and acute complications. Indeed, recent genetic studies argue strongly that hs-CRP lies outside the mechanistic path of atherosclerosis. 23 Nonetheless, an overwhelming amount of data indicates that hs-CRP serves as a marker of disease. 17–21

Nissen et al 10 showed that the rate of progression of atherosclerosis is lower when the levels of atherogenic lipoproteins and hs-CRP are both lowered with statin therapy. Simultaneously, Ridker et al 11 showed that patients who have lower hs-CRP levels after statin therapy have better clinical outcomes than those with higher hs-CRP levels, regardless of their achieved level of LDL-C.

Collectively, these studies and others have led some to believe that, in people with relatively low LDL-C but persistently elevated hs-CRP, statin therapy may reduce the rate of events. 15,24 The JUPITER trial was undertaken to test this hypothesis.

JUPITER STUDY DESIGN

JUPITER was designed to see whether highly potent statin therapy is beneficial in people with elevated hs-CRP who otherwise do not meet the criteria for lipid-lowering therapy. The study was conducted at 1,315 sites in 26 countries. It was sponsored by AstraZeneca, the maker of rosuvastatin (Crestor).

Inclusion and exclusion criteria

All participants had to be free of known cardiovascular disease, have an LDL-C level lower than 130 mg/dL, and have an hs-CRP level of 2.0 mg/L or greater. Patients were excluded if they were previous or current users of lipid-lowering drugs; had severe arthritis, lupus, or inflammatory bowel disease; or were taking immune-modulating drugs such as cyclosporine (Sandimmune, others), tacrolimus (Prograf), azathioprine (Azasan, Imuran), or long-term oral corticosteroids.

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