Outcomes Research in Review

Effect of PCSK9 Inhibitors on Coronary Artery Disease Progression


Nicolls SJ, Puri S, Anderson, T, et al. Effect of evolocumab on progression of coronary disease in statin-treated patients. The GLAGOV randomized clinical trial. JAMA 2016;316:2372–84.

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Study Overview

Objective. To determine if evolocumab, a PCSK9 inhibitor, affects the progression of coronary artery disease in patients treated with statins.

Design. Multicenter, international, double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial.

Setting and participants. 197 community and academic hospitals worldwide enrolled 978 participants who underwent serial intravascular ultrasounds (IVUS) to measure their burden of coronary atherosclerosis. A total of 2628 patients were screened. Patients were considered for inclusion if they were 18 years of age or older and had at least 1 coronary artery stenosis of at least 20% on a clinically indicated catheterization. Additionally, the target vessel had to meet IVUS imaging quality and visibility standards. Participants were required to have been on stable statin therapy for at least 4 weeks with an LDL level of > 80 mg/dL or between 60–80 mg/dL with either 1 major or 3 minor cardiovascular risk factors. Major risk factors were noncoronary atherosclerotic disease, myocardial infarction (MI) or hospitalization for unstable angina within the past 2 years, or type 2 diabetes. Minor risk factors included current tobacco use, hypertension, low HDL-C levels, family history of early coronary disease, hsCRP level of 2 mg/L or greater, and age older than 50 years for men and 55 years for women. Patients with uncontrolled hypertension, uncontrolled diabetes, heart failure, renal insufficiency, or liver disease were excluded.

Intervention. Patients were randomized to either treatment with monthly subcutaneous injections of 420 mg evolocumab or placebo injections for 76 weeks. Participants attended 7 follow-up visits during the study period and then underwent repeat IVUS imaging at the 78th week. Research staff, who were blinded to both treatment status and imaging sequence, collected and assessed target vessel measurements, including the vessel lumen and external elastic membrane dimensions. IVUS imaging has been used in numerous clinical studies and has been shown to be accurate and reliable [1].

Main outcome measures. The primary outcome was the target artery change in percent atheroma volume (PAV) from baseline to week 78. PAV was calculated from IVUS measurements. Nominal change in PAV was then determined by calculating the difference of the PAV at baseline and at week 78.

The secondary measure was the normalized total atheroma volume (TAV). TAV addresses variability in the length of vessel segments and the number of images collected during IVUS catheter pullback. The nominal change in TAV was then determined by the difference at baseline and at week 78.

Additional secondary efficacy endpoints included number of patients with regression of plaque and change in lipid parameters. Safety outcomes were investigated through evaluation of the incidence of adjudicated clinical events, including all-cause mortality, cardiovascular death, MI, unstable angina requiring hospitalization, coronary revascularization, stroke, transient ischemic attack, and heart failure requiring hospitalization. Post-hoc analysis compared baseline LDL-C level and change in PAV and regression of PAV. The association between LDL lowering and plaque progression was also assessed post hoc.

IVUS measurements were evaluated as least squares means. Comparison of treatment groups was conducted using analysis of covariance on rank transformed data that accounted for baseline value and geographic location. Investigators used a step-down statistical procedure to evaluate primary and secondary endpoints. The statistical model accounted for confounders such as baseline LDL-C, baseline PAV, intensity of statin therapy, geographic region, age, and sex.

Main results. 484 participants were randomized to the evolocumab group and 484 to the placebo group, and 423 participants in both groups completed both baseline and follow-up IVUS imaging. Treatment and control groups contained participants matched for age, gender, ethnicity, cardiovascular risk factors, and baseline medication use, including lipid-lowering agents, ACE inhibitors, ARBs, beta-blockers, and antiplatelet therapies. Both groups consisted of a majority of white (93.4% in placebo and 94.2% in treatment) males (72.3% in placebo and 72.1% in treatment). Approximately 80% of participants had hypertension (83.7% in placebo and 82.2% in treatment), about 35% had prior MIs (35.3% in placebo and 34.9% in treatment), and roughly a fifth of participants had diabetes (21.5% in placebo and 20.2% in treatment). At baseline 98.6% of participants were treated with statins, with 58.9% on high-intensity therapy and 39.4% on moderate-intensity. Mean LDL-C level at baseline was 92.5 (SD, 27.2) mg/dL.

After 76 weeks of treatment, mean LDL-C level in the placebo group was 93.0 mg/dL and 36.6 mg/dL in the treatment group, which corresponds to a 0.2 mg/dL increase in the placebo group and a 56.3 mg/dL reduction in the treatment group. The change in LDL-C level was statistically significant (P < 0.001).

Placebo group participants had no significant change in PAV (0.05%, P = 0.78), but the evolocumab group experienced a 0.95% decrease from baseline (P < 0.001). Similarly, the placebo group had no change in TAV from baseline (–0.9 mm3, P = 0.45), but the treatment group had a 5.8 mm3 reduction in TAV from baseline (P < 0.001). The treatment group had a greater proportion of patients who experienced PAV regression (64.3% vs. 47.3%, P < 0.001) and TAV regression (61.5% vs. 48.9%, P < 0.001).

Subgroup analysis did not demonstrate a significant association between change in PAV and specific study participant characteristics (eg, age, gender, ethnicity).

Post-hoc analysis using local regression (LOESS) curve revealed a linear relationship between achieved LDL-C level and change in PAV for LDL-C levels from 110 mg/dL to 20 mg/dL.

The treatment group did not exhibit a significant increase in adverse drug events, which included injection site reactions, myalgias, neurocognitive events, and incidence of diabetes. There was no significant difference in adverse cardiovascular outcomes between groups; however, there were numerically fewer nonfatal MIs and coronary revascularizations in the treatment group.

Conclusion. The use of evolocumab in statin-treated patients resulted in greater reduction of PAV than use of statins alone.


Evolocumab is a monoclonal antibody that inhibits pro-protein convertase subtilisin-kexin type 9 (PCSK9), which is involved in LDL-C receptor recycling. By reducing removal of LDL-C receptors, evolocumab amplifies LDL-C clearance and has been shown to reduce LDL-C levels by approximately 61% from baseline with 12 weeks oftreatment [2]. Studies have shown that the lipid-lowering potential of evolocumab is superior to statins alone and to combination therapy with statins and ezetimibe [2]. Furthermore, PCSK9 inhibitors have been effective at LDL-lowering in patients who failed or could not tolerate standard of care therapy with statins and ezetimibe [3,4]. PCSK9 inhibitors hold great promise for reducing morbidity and mortality of cardiovascular disease; however, LDL-lowering is not equivalent to improved clinical outcomes.

The GLAGOV study moves toward demonstration of the clinical benefit of evolocumab. The study shows that combined therapy with statins and evolocumab, versus statins alone, not only achieves better stability of atherosclerotic plaque dimensions but actually results in regression of plaque size. In the study, plaque burden is extrapolated from vessel measurements obtained through IVUS, and nominal changes in PAV and TAV serve as markers for atherosclerosis, but these surrogates cannot be equated to a reduction in cardiovascular events. The GLAGOV trial does explore clinical outcomes such as MI, stroke, unstable angina, coronary revascularization, and death; however, the study is not powered to evaluate the statistical significance of these events. We await sufficiently powered phase 3 clinical trials to determine the clinical benefits of PCSK9 inhibitors on cardiovascular disease.

The GLAGOV trial has several strengths, including its design as an international, double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial. The intervention is simple and the outcomes are clearly defined. The statistical assessment yields significant results. Nonetheless, there are multiple limitations to the study. The lead author has received research support from Amgen, the maker of evolocumab. Amgen also participated in study design and maintenance of trial databases; however, data analysis was conducted by an independent statistician. Additionally, the majority of study participants were white males with very few minority patients despite inclusion of study sites around the globe. The homogeneity of the study cohort makes the data difficult to generalize to a larger population. Similarly, patients who lacked a clinical indication for coronary catheterization and those with uncontrolled diabetes, hypertension, and heart failure were excluded, which further limits application of this study to many patients with atherosclerosis. Another limitation is study attrition; only 87% of participants completed the 78-week IVUS and were included in the data analysis, and results may have differed if those lost to follow-up had completed the trial. Furthermore, study duration was limited to 76 weeks and the magnitude and durability of study outcomes after this time point remain unknown.

Applications for Clinical Practice

Reduction in PAV and TAV are surrogate endpoints and are not indicative of a clinical benefit. Nonetheless, the GLAGOV study demonstrates that evolocumab, when used in conjunction with statins, can promote regression of atherosclerosis greater than treatment with statins alone. More studies are needed to evaluate a clinical benefit of adding evolocumab to the regularly used arsenal of lipid-lowering therapies for the treatment of atherosclerosis. Furthermore, cost-effectiveness of evolocumab has not been shown. In 2015 the yearly wholesale price of evolcumab was $14,350. A cost-effectiveness analysis based on this price estimates that treatment of atherosclerotic coronary vascular disease with evolocumab has a cost of $414,000 per quality-adjusted life year [5]. Evolocumab is well tolerated, but additional studies for cardiovascular and mortality outcomes are needed before it can be considered part of the standard of treatment for coronary artery disease.

—Lauren Brooks, MD, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD


1. Nicholls SJ, Hsu A, Wolski K, et al. Intravascular ultrasound-derived measures of coronary atherosclerotic plaque burden and clinical outcome. J Am Coll Cardiol 2010;55:2399–407.

2. Sabatine MS, Giugliano RP, Wiviolt SD, et al. Efficacy and safety of evolocumab in reducing lipids and cardiovascular events. N Engl J Med 2015;372:1500–9.

3. Giugliano RP, Sabatine MS. Are PCSK9 inhibitors the next breakthrough in the cardiovascular field. J Am Coll Cardiol 2015;65:2639–51.

4. Stroes E, Colquhoun D, Sullivan D, et al. Anti-PCSK9 antibody effectively lowers cholesterol in patients with statin intolerance: the GAUSS-2 randomized, placebo-controlled phase 3 clinical trial of evolocumab. J Am Coll Cardiol 2014;63:2541–8.

5. Dhruv KS, Moran AE, Coxson PG, et al. Cost-effectiveness of PCSK9 inhibitor therapy in patients with heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia or atherosclerotic coronary artery disease. JAMA 2016;316:743–53.

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