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DAPA-HF: Dapagliflozin benefits regardless of age, HF severity

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Dapagliflozin nears foundational status for HFrEF treatment

In DAPA-HF, treatment with dapagliflozin met the three critical goals of heart failure management. When used on top of current guideline-directed medical therapy, the treatment reduced mortality, cut hospitalizations, and improved heart failure–related health status – all to a similar extent regardless of patients’ age or symptom severity at entry. These new, post hoc findings provide important, additional data supporting inhibition of sodium-glucose cotransporter (SGLT) 2 with dapagliflozin as the newest foundational pillar of treatment for heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF).

Dr. Carolyn S.P. Lam, professor of medicine at Duke-National University of Singapore Mitchel L. Zoler/MDedge News

Dr. Carolyn S.P. Lam

Analysis of the DAPA-HF results by age showed a consistent benefit from dapagliflozin treatment in older patients with HFrEF, compared with younger patients. This finding is important because patients more than 75 years old often have comorbidities, frailty, and polypharmacy use, any of which could potentially affect the risk/benefit relationship of the drugs they take. The absolute risk reduction is greater in older patients because of their higher baseline risk for cardiovascular events, while the relative risk reductions among the age strata were similar. Older patients also had more adverse events during the study, but the rate of these events was similar among patients on dapagliflozin treatment and those who received placebo, so in general dapagliflozin was well tolerated. Older patients were less likely to receive current guideline-directed medical therapy, which may have amplified the impact of dapagliflozin and also highlights the treatment inertia that can affect these patients.

The results of the analysis by baseline symptoms severity as measured by the Kansas City Cardiomyopathy Questionnaire (KCCQ) showed similar treatment effects from dapagliflozin regardless of a patient’s baseline KCCQ score, suggesting that the prior report of a blunted effect of dapagliflozin in patients classified at baseline as being in New York Heart Association functional class III or IV compared with class I and II patients was likely a chance finding.

Both the analyses by age and by KCCQ scores were limited by their post hoc status using data collected in a single study. No evidence addresses whether these are class effects for all drugs in the SGLT2-inhibitor class, whether these findings from DAPA-HF are generalizable to real world practice, or whether treatment with dapagliflozin would have similar effects on outcomes if it had been used more often in combination with sacubitril/valsartan. In DAPA-HF, 11% of patients also received sacubitril/valsartan even though existing management guidelines recommend sacubitril/valsartan as the preferred agent for inhibiting the renin-angiotensin system.

It’s also unclear whether patient-reported outcomes such as those measured by the KCCQ will help in sequencing the introduction of drugs for HFrEF patients, or drug selection by patients, providers, payers, and in guidelines.

Carolyn S.P. Lam, MD, is professor of medicine at Duke-National University of Singapore. She has been a consultant to and has received research funding from AstraZeneca and several other companies. She made these comments as designated discussant for the two reports.



– The substantial benefits from adding dapagliflozin to guideline-directed medical therapy for patients with heart failure with reduced ejection fraction enrolled in the DAPA-HF trial applied to patients regardless of their age or baseline health status, a pair of new post hoc analyses suggest.

These findings emerged a day after a report that more fully delineated dapagliflozin’s consistent safety and efficacy in patients with heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF) regardless of whether they also had type 2 diabetes. One of the new, post hoc analyses reported at the American Heart Association scientific sessions suggested that even the most elderly enrolled patients, 75 years and older, had a similar cut in mortality and acute heart failure exacerbations, compared with younger patients. A second post hoc analysis indicated that patients with severe heart failure symptoms at entry into the trial received about as much benefit from the addition of dapagliflozin as did patients with mild baseline symptoms, measured by the Kansas City Cardiomyopathy Questionnaire (KCCQ).

The primary results from the DAPA-HF (Dapagliflozin and Prevention of Adverse Outcomes in Heart Failure) trial, first reported in August 2019, showed that among more than 4,700 patients with HFrEF randomized to receive the sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitor dapagliflozin (Farxiga) on top of standard HFrEF medications or placebo, those who received dapagliflozin had a statistically significant, 26% decrease in their incidence of the primary study endpoint over a median 18 months, regardless of diabetes status (N Engl J Med. 2019 Nov 21;381[21]:1995-2008).

“These benefits were entirely consistent across the range of ages studied,” extending from patients younger than 55 years to those older than 75 years, John McMurray, MD, said at the meeting. “In many parts of the world, particularly North America and Western Europe, we have an increasingly elderly population. Many patients with heart failure are much older than in clinical trials,” he said.

Dr. John McMurray, professor of medical cardiology, University of Glasgow Mitchel L. Zoler/MDedge News

Dr. John McMurray

“The thing of concern is whether elderly patients get as much benefit and tolerate treatment as well as younger patients,” said Dr. McMurray, professor of medical cardiology at the University of Glasgow.

“Dapagliflozin worked across all ages, including some very elderly patients enrolled in the trial,” said Mary Norine Walsh, MD, medical director of the heart failure and transplant program at St. Vincent Heart Center of Indiana in Indianapolis. “Many trials have not looked at age like this. I hope this is a new way to analyze trials to produce more information that can help patients,” she said in an interview.

Dr. Mary Norine Walsh, medical director of the heart failure and transplant program at St. Vincent Heart Center of Indiana in Indianapolis

Dr. Mary Norine Walsh

Quality-of-life outcomes

The other new, post hoc analysis showed that patients with severe HF symptoms at entry into the trial received about as much benefit from the addition of dapagliflozin as did patients with milder baseline symptoms and less impaired function, measured by the KCCQ. Dapagliflozin treatment “improved cardiovascular death and worsening heart failure to a similar extent across the entire range of KCCQ at baseline,” Mikhail N. Kosiborod, MD, said in a separate talk at the meeting. In addition, dapagliflozin treatment increased the rate of small, moderate, and large clinically meaningful improvements in patients’ KCCQ scores across all key domains of the metric, which scores symptom frequency and severity, physical and social limitations, and quality of life, said Dr. Kosiborod, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University of Missouri–Kansas City.


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