ESC 2020 Looks to Make Its Mark in 'New Era' of Virtual Meetings

Patrice Wendling

August 25, 2020

The coronavirus may have quashed plans to socialize and stroll the canals of Amsterdam while at this year's European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress, but organizers are promising a historic digital experience that will "once again, be a celebration of discovery and ground-breaking science."

"My message — if I have to choose only one thing why ESC 2020 will be a historic event — is that the physician working at the Cleveland Clinic, who was planning to attend this year in Amsterdam, as well as the colleague in a bush hospital in Uganda, who would have never have dreamed to be part of the ESC Congress, both will have for the first time the same access at the same time to knowledge shared at the worldwide leading cardiovascular meeting," Marco Roffi, MD, co-chair of the scientific program, told theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology.

Taking a page from the American College of Cardiology, which set the virtual bar early in the pandemic with its highly interactive ACC 2020, ESC is taking some 80 Hot Line, clinical practice guidelines, and special sessions live with question-and-answer interactions and panel discussions.

The latest COVID-19 research and four new guideline documents — including recommendations on atrial fibrillation (AF), non-ST-segment elevation acute coronary syndromes, sports cardiology and exercise in patients with cardiovascular disease, and adult congenital heart disease — will be featured at the ESC Congress 2020, scheduled for August 29 to September 1.

Presentations will be shorter and sessions more focused, but more than 500 scientific and educational sessions will be streamed in addition to more than 4000 abstracts available live or on demand as full presentations or e-posters, said Roffi, University Hospital of Geneva, Switzerland.

To pull off the virtual event, a digital studio in Amsterdam will host hundreds of key opinion leaders, and ESC employed more than 1000 satellite studios around the world to gather contributions from scientists and experts with the help of 70 behind-the-scenes experts.

Nevertheless, a "strategic decision" was made to provide free access to the event and its content for 30 days — a strategy that has attracted some 58,000 registrants thus far, up from a record 32,000 attendees at last year's congress in Paris, Roffi said.

"Obviously, the income will not be the same as a physical congress, but we felt there was too much at stake to make a compromise," he said. "We believe we are the leaders in cardiovascular meetings in the physical ones and we want to keep this position even in the new era. And we believe this is the beginning of a new era in whatever form will be."

Hot Line Sessions 1-3, Saturday (14:00 CEST)

The Hot Line sessions will feature 13 clinical trials and kick off with EMPEROR-Reduced, which compared the sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitor empagliflozin (Jardiance, Boehringer Ingelheim/Eli Lilly) added to standard care in patients with heart failure with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF), with and without diabetes.

Eli Lilly and Boehringer Ingelheim already announced the trial met its composite primary endpoint of reducing cardiovascular (CV) death or HF hospitalization risk but the details will be important given the SGLT2 inhibitors' rapid shift beyond diabetes to HF and chronic kidney disease (CKD).

Results presented at ESC 2019 from the landmark DAPA-HF trial led to the recent new indication for dapagliflozin (Farxiga, AstraZeneca) for HFrEF in the absence of diabetes. New data will be released in a Sunday Hot Line session looking at the SGLT2 inhibitor among diabetic and nondiabetic CKD patients in DAPA-CKD, which was halted early because of overwhelming efficacy.

As the indication evolved, the SGLT2 inhibitors became truly cardiovascular disease drugs, Roffi said, "so all the cardiologists will have to become familiar with these agents."

Hot Line 2 will look at the oral cardiac myosin inhibitor mavacamten as an alternative to surgery or percutaneous interventions to treat obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). The first-in-class investigational agent is thought to reduce the hypercontractility characteristic of HCM by inhibiting excessive actin-myosin cross-bridges, and it showed promise in the recent phase 2 dose-finding MAVERICK HCM trial.

Investigators are expected to flesh out details from the 251-patient phase 3 EXPLORER-HCM trial, which reported functional and symptomatic gains with once-daily dosing in top-line results released by developer MyoKardia.

"This is really a revolutionary way to treat — hopefully successfully — this very complex disease," Roffi said.

Rounding out the day is the EAST-AFNET 4 trial, which has been almost 10 years in the making and examined whether early rhythm control with antiarrhythmic drugs and catheter ablation can prevent adverse outcomes in patients with AF compared with usual care alone based on the ESC 2010 AF treatment guidelines.

Hot Line Sessions 4-6, Sunday (14:00 CEST)

Hot Line 4 features the ATPCI study examining the addition of the oral antianginal agent trimetazidine to standard of care in 6007 patients with angina after recent successful percutaneous coronary intervention.

Next up is POPULAR-TAVI looking at aspirin with or without clopidogrel in patients undergoing transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI).

"This is a dilemma that we have every day in the cath lab when we perform a TAVI because we have in front of us patients who, by definition, are at high bleeding risk, are old, and have comorbidities such as renal insufficiencies," Roffi said. "I like this very much because it's a very practical study. Whatever the response will be of this study, it will impact clinical practice."

Hot Line 6 is devoted to the PARALLAX trial comparing sacubitril/valsartan (Entresto, Novartis) with individualized medical therapy in 2569 heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF) patients. The primary outcomes are 12-week change in N-terminal pro-brain natriuretic peptide and 24-week change in 6-minute walk distance.

Hot Line Sessions 7-9, Monday (14:00 CEST)

The next day starts with the timely topic of inflammation with the LoDoCo2 trial, in which 5522 patients with stable coronary artery disease were randomized to low-dose colchicine 0.5 mg daily or placebo on top of optimal medical therapy. The primary composite endpoint is CV death, myocardial infarction (MI), ischemic stroke, and ischemia-driven revascularization.

Additional colchicine data also will be presented in a late-breaking science session on Saturday that includes the Australian COPS trial in acute coronary syndromes and new analyses from COLCOT, which demonstrated a 23% reduction in the risk of first ischemic CV events following an MI but no mortality benefit. The low-cost anti-inflammatory drug is also being tested in the mammoth 6000-patient phase 3 Colchicine Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (COLCORONA) trial, expected to be completed by the end of September.

Hot Line 8 switches gears with the open-label randomized HOME-PE trial comparing outpatient management of pulmonary embolism (PE) in 1975 select patients based on either the simplified Pulmonary Embolism Severity Index (PESI) score, featured in the most recent ESC acute PE guidelines, or the HESTIA criteria, developed in the HESTIA study. The event-driven primary end point is the composite of recurrent venous thromboembolism, major bleeding, and all-cause death at 30 days.

Last up on Monday is a new analysis on the effects of lowering blood pressure for prevention of CV events across various BP levels from the BPLTTC, which is the largest resource of patient-level randomized clinical trial data, at more than 350,000 patients.

Tuesday Hot Line Sessions 10-12 (14:00 CEST)

The final day of the Congress ends with bang, with the randomized BRACE-CORONA trial examining the effect of continuing or suspending angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) in 700 patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Although several cardiovascular societies including ESC recommend continuation of renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS) antagonists in COVID-19 patients, randomized data are lacking and patients have been rattled by early observations suggesting that ACE2 upregulation from RAAS antagonists could increase the risk of developing severe COVID-19.

"BRACE-CORONA will answer the question that everybody's been asking, whether or not you should continue ARBs and ACE inhibitors in COVID-19 patients. This is a randomized trial and we are all very excited about it," Roffi said.

COVID-19 will also be discussed in a late-breaking science session on Sunday and in three industry Q&A sessions scattered over the 4 days.

Rounding out the last Hot Line session is IMPACT-AFib, a claims database analysis of early vs delayed educational interventions to improve oral anticoagulation use in a whopping 80,000 patients with AF, and REALITY, a much-needed cost-effectiveness analysis of liberal vs restrictive transfusion strategies in 630 patients with acute MI and anemia.

Follow Patrice Wendling on Twitter: @pwendl. Follow ESC Congress 2020 coverage from theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology on Twitter and Facebook.

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