The first randomized study to compare continuing versus stopping ACE inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) for patients with COVID-19 has shown no difference in key outcomes between the two approaches.
The BRACE CORONA trial – conducted in patients had been taking an ACE inhibitor or an ARB on a long-term basis and who were subsequently hospitalized with COVID-19 – showed no difference in the primary endpoint of number of days alive and out of hospital among those whose medication was suspended for 30 days and those who continued undergoing treatment with these agents.
“Because these data indicate that there is no clinical benefit from routinely interrupting these medications in hospitalized patients with mild to moderate COVID-19, they should generally be continued for those with an indication,” principal investigator Renato Lopes, MD, of Duke Clinical Research Institute, Durham, N.C., concluded.
The BRACE CORONA trial was presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress 2020 on Sept. 1.
Dr. Lopes explained that there are two conflicting hypotheses about the role of ACE inhibitors and ARBs in COVID-19.
One hypothesis suggests that use of these drugs could be harmful by increasing the expression of ACE2 receptors (which the SARS-CoV-2 virus uses to gain entry into cells), thus potentially enhancing viral binding and viral entry. The other suggests that ACE inhibitors and ARBs could be protective by reducing production of angiotensin II and enhancing the generation of angiotensin 1-7, which attenuates inflammation and fibrosis and therefore could attenuate lung injury.
The BRACE CORONA trial was an academic-led randomized study that tested two strategies: temporarily stopping the ACE inhibitor/ARB for 30 days or continuing these drugs for patients who had been taking these medications on a long-term basis and were hospitalized with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19.
The primary outcome was the number of days alive and out of hospital at 30 days. Patients who were using more than three antihypertensive drugs or sacubitril/valsartan or who were hemodynamically unstable at presentation were excluded from the study.
The trial enrolled 659 patients from 29 sites in Brazil. The mean age of patients was 56 years, 40% were women, and 52% were obese. ACE inhibitors were being taken by 15% of the trial participants; ARBs were being taken by 85%. The median duration of ACE inhibitor/ARB treatment was 5 years.
Patients were a median of 6 days from COVID-19 symptom onset. For 30% of the patients, oxygen saturation was below 94% at entry. In terms of COVID-19 symptoms, 57% were classified as mild, and 43% as moderate.
Those with severe COVID-19 symptoms who needed intubation or vasoactive drugs were excluded. Antihypertensive therapy would generally be discontinued in these patients anyway, Dr. Lopes said.
Results showed that the average number of days alive and out of hospital was 21.9 days for patients who stopped taking ACE inhibitors/ARBs and 22.9 days for patients who continued taking these medications. The average difference between groups was –1.1 days.
The average ratio of days alive and out of hospital between the suspending and continuing groups was 0.95 (95% CI, 0.90-1.01; P = .09).
The proportion of patients alive and out of hospital by the end of 30 days in the suspending ACE inhibitor/ARB group was 91.8% versus 95% in the continuing group.
A similar 30-day mortality rate was seen for patients who continued and those who suspended ACE inhibitor/ARB therapy, at 2.8% and 2.7%, respectively (hazard ratio, 0.97). The median number of days that patients were alive and out of hospital was 25 in both groups.
Dr. Lopes said that there was no difference between the two groups with regard to many other secondary outcomes. These included COVID-19 disease progression (need for intubation, ventilation, need for vasoactive drugs, or imaging results) and cardiovascular endpoints (MI, stroke, thromboembolic events, worsening heart failure, myocarditis, or hypertensive crisis).
“Our results endorse with reliable and more definitive data what most medical and cardiovascular societies are recommending – that patients do not stop ACE inhibitor or ARB medication. This has been based on observational data so far, but BRACE CORONA now provides randomized data to support this recommendation,” Dr. Lopes concluded.
Dr. Lopes noted that several subgroups had been prespecified for analysis. Factors included age, obesity, difference between ACE inhibitors/ARBs, difference in oxygen saturation at presentation, time since COVID-19 symptom onset, degree of lung involvement on CT, and symptom severity on presentation.
“We saw very consistent effects of our main findings across all these subgroups, and we plan to report more details of these in the near future,” he said.