Conference Coverage

‘Striking’ benefit of lipid lowering in primary prevention


AT ADA 2023

A new analysis of a large-scale trial of a novel lipid-lowering agent has shown a particularly large reduction in cardiovascular events in the primary prevention population enrolled in the study, two-thirds of whom also had type 2 diabetes, leading to calls for more attention to be paid to this group of patients.

The main results of the CLEAR Outcomes trial of bempedoic acid (Nexletol, Esperion) in a mixed secondary and primary prevention population intolerant to statins, presented in March at the 2023 joint scientific sessions of the American College of Cardiology and the World Heart Federation, showed a 13% relative risk reduction in the main primary endpoint, a composite of cardiovascular death, myocardial infarction, stroke, or coronary revascularization.

This new analysis of the 4,206 high-risk primary prevention patients in the study – 67% of whom also had type 2 diabetes – has shown a 30% relative risk reduction in the same endpoint.

Other key endpoints were reduced to a similar or even greater extent, with the composite of cardiovascular death/stroke/MI showing a 36% relative risk reduction, and a 39% relative risk reduction for cardiovascular death and MI individually.

Dr. Steven Nissen is chair of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Cleveland (Ohio) Clinic

Dr. Steven Nissen

“These results are frankly striking,” lead investigator Steve Nissen, MD, said in an interview.

“These are really large reductions. These results are telling us that high-risk primary prevention patients, although their absolute event rate is lower than secondary prevention patients, can have very impressive relative risk reductions in major cardiovascular events with lipid-lowering therapy,” he said.

But Dr. Nissen, chief academic officer at the Heart Vascular & Thoracic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, pointed out that this population of patients is not well treated.

“This is the problem: Less than half of high-risk primary prevention patients in the U.S., and in virtually every other developed country, are receiving cholesterol-lowering medication. These patients tend to get ignored,” he stressed.

Asked what advice he would give to clinicians based on the current findings, Dr. Nissen said: “If a patient is at high risk of developing cardiovascular disease, particularly those with [type 2] diabetes, they need to go on a lipid-lowering drug.”

“If patients can tolerate a statin then that should be the first choice. We know statins work, and they are now inexpensive. They are likely to give the exact same benefit as we have shown in this study with bempedoic acid, as the two drug classes work by very similar mechanisms. But if patients can’t tolerate a statin, then treat them with bempedoic acid. The bottom line is that these patients just need to be treated,” he said.

‘Wake-up call’

He said these new results are a “wake-up call for the medical community that we need to pay far more attention to high-risk primary prevention patients.”

Dr. Nissen does not believe the effect is specific to bempedoic acid; rather, it is more likely an effect of lowering LDL cholesterol (LDL-C) levels.

“This message is not about bempedoic acid, in particular. We have seen similar findings in historical studies with the statins, but that seems to have been forgotten. The message is about lowering LDL in patients who are at high risk of having a first cardiovascular event. We need to identify patients at high risk for a first cardiac event and get them on a cholesterol-lowering drug – and in most cases that will be a statin.”

Dr. Nissen presented the new analysis from the CLEAR OUTCOMES trial at the annual scientific sessions of the American Diabetes Association. It was simultaneously published online in JAMA.

He pointed out that large trials of lipid-lowering therapy in the primary prevention population have not been done for many years.

“All the contemporary trials with lipid-lowering therapy have only included secondary prevention patients and they often enroll patients after an acute coronary syndrome event.

“But for the CLEAR OUTCOMES trial, we included a significant amount of primary prevention patients – those with risk factors such as [type 2] diabetes and hypertension who are considered to be at high risk of developing cardiovascular disease,” he explained.

CLEAR OUTCOMES was a masked, randomized, trial that enrolled 13,970 statin-intolerant patients. The new analysis included 4,206 of those patients with risk factors for heart disease but without a prior cardiovascular event – the primary prevention group. The mean age of these participants was 68 years, 67% had diabetes, and 59% were women.

Treatment with bempedoic acid showed a 22% reduction in LDL-C, compared with placebo, with a reduction of 30.2 mg/dL from a mean baseline of 142.5 mg/dL. High-sensitivity C-reactive protein (CRP) levels were also reduced by 0.56 mg/L (21.5%), from a median baseline of 2.4 mg/L.

Dr. Nissen told a press briefing at the ADA meeting that he believes “it’s the combination of LDL lowering and reduction in CRP that might have been the driver [for the effects we saw in the trial]. Certainly, bempedoic acid lowers both.”

And he noted the recent U.S. approval of a new low dose of colchicine 0.5 mg (Lodoco, Agepha Pharma) with a broad indication for use in atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD), which represents a completely new approach to treatment, specifically targeting inflammation as a driver of atherosclerosis.

Bempedoic acid is a prodrug that works along the same pathways as statins but does not cause muscle pain, which makes many people intolerant to statins. Bempedoic acid was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2020 for the treatment of adults with heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia or established ASCVD who require additional LDL-C lowering.


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