NEW ORLEANS – The cardiovascular safety profile of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) celecoxib, a selective inhibitor of COX-2, is no worse than those of the nonselective NSAIDs naproxen and ibuprofen, according to a trial reported at the American Heart Association scientific sessions.
The trial, known as (Vioxx), was withdrawn from the market because of associated cardiovascular events. It compared the three drugs among more than 24,000 patients with painful arthritis and elevated cardiovascular risk.
Main results showed that 2%-3% of patients experienced a cardiovascular event (cardiovascular death, myocardial infarction, or stroke) during a follow-up approaching 3 years, regardless of which drug they were assigned to take, with the slight differences falling within predefined margins for noninferiority of celecoxib, investigators reported in a session and related press conference.
Additionally, celecoxib yielded a lower rate of gastrointestinal events when compared with each of the other drugs and a lower rate of renal events when compared with ibuprofen.
“After the withdrawal of rofecoxib, everybody thought they knew the answer, that COX-2 inhibitors had an unfavorable cardiovascular profile,” commented first author, chair of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “We didn’t find that. And this is the type of study that once again teaches us that if we jump to conclusions about this based on mechanistic considerations, we often make very bad decisions.”
Efforts are under way to disseminate the PRECISION findings to rheumatologists and other groups who do much of the NSAID prescribing.
“Any time you have something that has findings like the findings we have, it takes some time to trickle down to the prescribers. It’s going to be our job to communicate both the value and the important limitations of the trial so that people can make informed decisions about which of these drugs to use and in whom,” Dr. Nissen said.
A cautionary view
“The investigators addressed an extremely important question, which is what is the cardiovascular safety of agents that we administer for a general medical condition over the long term,” commented invited discussant, a senior physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and associate dean for Clinical and Translational Research at Harvard Medical School in Boston. “We don’t see a lot of trials like that, but we do need this information.”
“This is not a comparison of drugs; this is a comparison of drug regimens because the investigators were able to increase the dose to control the subjects’ pain,” Dr. Antman elaborated. “And they were able to increase the dose of naproxen and ibuprofen comparatively more than they could for celecoxib,” which was capped at 200 mg per day at most study sites.
Furthermore, only about one-fifth of the patients studied had known heart disease. “We know that the more likely a person is to have atherosclerosis, the more likely they are to experience harm from COX-2 inhibition,” he said. “So given the profile of the patients in this trial, it’s unlikely that we would have been able to detect that signal of harm from COX-2 inhibition, particularly at this dose.”
Dr. Antman also had concerns about the impact on concomitant aspirin therapy (the benefit of which can be affected by nonselective NSAIDs) and about possible differences in the reasons for dropouts that may have biased findings toward celecoxib. “I believe we need more information in order to more completely interpret this trial,” he summarized.
For now, he advised physicians to follow guidance put forth by the American Heart Association: Avoid NSAIDs in patients with known heart disease, and if one must use them, try to use the lowest-risk drug in the lowest dose needed for the shortest period of time.
In the future, “we should actually break out of the mold of assigning everybody in the trial a common phenotype and reporting the average result, but instead take a precision medicine approach, where we look at the polymorphisms in the COX enzyme, look at the polymorphisms in the ability to metabolize these drugs, and actually see if we can be more precise,” Dr. Antman maintained. “Finally, there is an urgent clinical need for the development of novel analgesics and other therapeutics to avoid the cardiovascular risk from all NSAIDs.”