Conference Coverage

New diabetes drugs solidify their cardiovascular and renal benefits



– When the first results from a large trial that showed profound and unexpected benefits for preventing heart failure hospitalizations associated with use of the antihyperglycemic sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitor empagliflozin came out – a little over 3 years ago – the general reaction from clinicians was some variant of “Could this be real?”

Dr. Eugene Braunwald, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston

Dr. Eugene Braunwald

Since then, as results from some five other large, international trials have come out showing both similar benefits from two other drugs in the same SGLT2 inhibitor class, canagliflozin and dapagliflozin, as well as results showing clear cardiovascular disease benefits from three drugs in a second class of antihyperglycemics, the glucagonlike peptide–1 receptor agonists (GLP-1 RAs), the general consensus among cardiologists became: “The cardiovascular and renal benefits are real. How can we now best use these drugs to help patients?”

This change increasingly forces cardiologists, as well as the primary care physicians who often manage patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus, to become more comfortable prescribing these two classes of antihyperglycemic drugs. During a talk at the American Heart Association scientific sessions, Eugene Braunwald, MD, arguably the top thought leader in cardiology, coined a new name for the medical subspecialty that he foresees navigating this overlap between diabetes care and cardiovascular disease prevention: diabetocardiology (although a more euphonic alternative might be cardiodiabetology, while the more comprehensive name could be cardionephrodiabetology).

“I was certainly surprised” by the first report in 2015 from the EMPA-REG OUTCOME trial (N Engl J Med. 2015 Nov 26;373[22]:2117-28), said Dr. Braunwald, who is professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston. A lot of his colleagues were surprised and said, “It’s just one trial.”

“Now we have three trials,” with the addition of the CANVAS trial for canagliflozin (N Engl J Med. 2017 Aug 17;377[7]:644-57) and the DECLARE-TIMI 58 trial (N Engl J Med. 2018 Nov 10. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1812389) for dapagliflozin reported at the AHA meeting in November.

“We are in the midst of two pandemics: heart failure and type 2 diabetes. As cardiologists, we have to learn how to deal with this,” said Dr. Braunwald, and the evidence now clearly shows that these drugs can help with that.

Dr. Javed Butler, professor and chairman of medicine, University of Mississippi, Jackson Mitchel L. Zoler/MDedge News

Dr. Javed Butler

As another speaker at the meeting, Javed Butler, MD, a heart failure specialist, observed in a separate talk at the meeting, “Heart failure is one of the most common, if not the most common complication, of patients with diabetes.” This tight link between heart failure and diabetes helps make cardiovascular mortality “the number one cause of death” in patients with diabetes, said Dr. Butler, professor and chairman of medicine at the University of Mississippi in Jackson.

“Thanks to the cardiovascular outcome trials, we now have a much broader and deeper appreciation of heart failure and renal disease as integral components of the cardiovascular-renal spectrum in people with diabetes,” said Subodh Verma, MD, a professor at the University of Toronto and cardiac surgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. Dr. Braunwald spelled out in his talk some of the interrelationships of diabetes, heart failure, and renal dysfunction that together produce a downward-spiraling vicious circle for patients, a pathophysiological process that clinicians can now short-circuit by treatment with a SGLT2 inhibitor.


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