Conference Coverage

EMPEROR-Preserved: Empagliflozin scores HFpEF breakthrough



Updated August 30, 2021

The SGLT2 inhibitor empagliflozin achieved in EMPEROR-Preserved what no other agent could previously do: unequivocally cut the incidence of cardiovascular death or hospitalization in patients with heart failure and preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF).

Dr. Stefan D. Anker, Charité Medical University in Berlin MDedge News

Dr. Stefan D. Anker

Treatment with empagliflozin (Jardiance) led to a significant 21% relative reduction in the rate of cardiovascular death or hospitalization for heart failure (HHF), compared with placebo, among 5,988 randomized patients with HFpEF during a median 26 months of follow-up, proving that patients with HFpEF finally have a treatment that gives them clinically meaningful benefit, and paving the way to an abrupt change in management of these patients, experts said.

“This is the first trial to show unequivocal benefits of any drug on major heart failure outcomes in patients with HFpEF,” Stefan D. Anker, MD, PhD, declared at the virtual annual congress of the European Society of Cardiology.

The 21% relative reduction, which reflected a cut in the absolute rate of the trial’s primary composite endpoint of 3.3% compared with placebo, was driven mainly by a significant 27% relative reduction in the incidence of HHF (P < .001). Empagliflozin treatment, on top of standard therapy for patients with HFpEF, also resulted in a nonsignificant 9% relative risk reduction in the incidence of cardiovascular death, but it had no discernible impact on the rate of death from any cause, said Dr. Anker, professor of cardiology at Charité Medical University in Berlin.

Concurrently with his talk at the meeting, the results were published online in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Practice will change ‘quickly’

“This will definitely change our practice, and quite quickly,” said Carlos Aguiar, MD, chair of the Advanced Heart Failure and Heart Transplantation Unit at Hospital Santa Cruz in Carnaxide, Portugal, who was not involved in the study.

Transition to routine use of empagliflozin in patients with HFpEF should be swift because it has already become a mainstay of treatment for patients with heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF) based on evidence for empagliflozin in EMPEROR-Reduced. A second sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2 ) inhibitor, dapagliflozin (Farxiga), is also an option for treating HFrEF based on results in the DAPA-HF trial, and the DELIVER trial, still in progress, is testing dapagliflozin as a HFpEF treatment in about 6,000 patients, with results expected in 2022.

About half of the patients in EMPEROR-Preserved had diabetes, and the treatment effects on HFpEF were similar regardless of patients’ diabetes status. Empagliflozin, like other members of the SGLT2 inhibitor class, boosts urinary excretion of glucose and received initial regulatory approval as an agent for glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes. Empagliflozin also has U.S.-approved marketing indications for treating patients with HFrEF whether or not they also have diabetes, and for reducing cardiovascular death in patients with type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“We already use this drug class in cardiovascular medicine and to treat patients with type 2 diabetes, and we have been eager to find a treatment for patients with HFpEF. This is something that will be really significant,” said Dr. Aguiar.

Heart failure clinicians have “become familiar prescribing” SGLT2 inhibitors following approval of HFrEF indications for some of these agents, noted Mary Norine Walsh, MD, a heart failure specialist with Ascension Medical Group in Indianapolis. The new results “are good news because there have been so few options” for patients with HFpEF, she said in an interview.

EMPEROR-Preserved “is the first phase 3 clinical trial that exclusively enrolled patients with heart failure and an ejection fraction of more than 40% to meet its primary outcome,” and the results “represent a major win against a medical condition that had previously proven formidable,” Mark H. Drazner, MD, said in an editorial that accompanied the published results.

The trial’s findings “should contribute to a change in clinical practice given the paucity of therapeutic options available for patients with HFpEF,” wrote Dr. Drazner, a heart failure specialist who is professor and clinical chief of cardiology at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Theresa A, McDonagh, MD, MBChB, who chaired the panel that just released revised guidelines from the European Society of Cardiology for managing patients with heart failure, predicted that empagliflozin treatment for patients with HFpEF will soon show up in guidelines. It will likely receive a “should be considered” ranking despite being a single study because of the impressive size of the treatment effect and lack of well-supported alternative treatments, she commented as a discussant of the trial during its presentation at the congress. If the DELIVER trial with dapagliflozin shows a similar effect, the recommendation would likely become even stronger, added Dr. McDonagh, a heart failure specialist and professor of cardiology at King’s College, London.

More women enrolled than ever before

EMPEROR-Preserved enrolled adults with chronic HFpEF in New York Heart Association functional class II-IV and a left ventricular ejection fraction greater than 40% starting in 2017 at more than 600 sites in more than 20 countries worldwide including the United States. As background therapy, more than 80% of patients received treatment with either an ACE inhibitor or angiotensin receptor blocker (in some instances in the form of sacubitril/valsartan), more than 80% were on a beta-blocker, and about a third were taking a mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist, making them “very well treated HFpEF patients,” Dr. Anker said.

One of the most notable features of enrollment was that 45% of participants were women, giving this trial the highest inclusion of women compared with all prior studies in patients with HFpEF or with HFrEF, said Dr. Walsh. “HFpEF is very prevalent in woman,” she noted, and having this high participation rate of women in the study increases its relevance to these patients. “It’s important to be able to tell women that patients like you were in the study so we can more easily apply the lessons from the trial to you. That can’t be stressed enough,” she said.

The primary outcome occurred in 415 (13.8%) of the 2,997 patients in the empagliflozin group and in 511 (17.1%) of 2,991 patients who received placebo (hazard ratio, 0.79; 95% confidence interval, 0.69-0.90; P < .001).

The study showed a safety profile consistent with prior experience with empagliflozin, Dr. Anker added.


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