Virtual AHA 2020 May Influence Template for Postpandemic Scientific Sessions

November 10, 2020

Cardiologists are already old hands at virtual meetings this year and are fast becoming experts on Zoom and other teleconferencing platforms, if not on how to unmute their microphones.

With expectations perhaps elevated and the new communications genre's novelty on the wane, the American Heart Association (AHA) Scientific Sessions 2020 has a chance to both innovate with familiar formats and captivate with the field's latest research findings.

Although the virtual AHA 2020 might not satisfy longings for face-to-face networking, shop talk, or kidding around over coffee, it will feature many traditional elements of the live conferences adapted for ear buds and small screens. They include late-breaking science (LBS) presentations and panel discussions, poster and live oral abstract presentations, meet-the-trialist talks, fireside-chat discussion forums, early career events, and satellite symposia.

The event may well hold lessons for future iterations of AHA Scientific Sessions in the postpandemic world, which some foresee as, potentially, an amalgam of the time-honored live format and a robust, complementary online presence.

"I can't commit to exactly what AHA sessions will look like next November; I think that's still being looked at," the organization's president-elect Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, MD, ScM, chair of the AHA Committee on Scientific Sessions Programming, told theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology

There's no debating that a live conference is valuable "for career networking and other opportunities, so I don't think we can do without it. That has to be an important part of it," he said. "When we can safely, of course."

Still, "the virtual platform democratizes, right? I mean, it just allows greater access for a broader audience, and I think that's important, too," said Lloyd-Jones, MD, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago.

"I don't think we'll ever go completely back to it being all in-person," he said. "I think the world has changed, and we'll have to adapt our platforms to recognize that."

Online, at least, meeting registrants will get a better look at Anthony Fauci, MD, than one might from the middle rows of a vast ballroom-turned-auditorium. Fauci is scheduled to speak on "Public Health and Scientific Challenges" during the Main Event session "Latest Insights on COVID 19 and Cardiovascular Disease," slated for the meeting's final day.

Fauci has directed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984, and has been celebrated for his leadership roles in the battles against AIDS and Ebola virus. Today, his name is close to a household word for his service as a prominent though embattled member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

The virtual AHA sessions will feature a core collection of LBS presentations from often high-profile clinical trials and other studies the organization deems worthy of special attention. There are nine such presentations arrayed across the meeting's five days — from Friday, November 13 to Tuesday, November 17 — at times listed in this story and throughout the AHA Scientific Session program synched with the Central Standard Time (CST) zone of the AHA's home office in Dallas.

Late-Breaking Science 1. Friday, November 13, 10:30 AM - 11:30 AM CST

The LBS sessions launch with the GALACTIC-HF trial, which — the world recently learned — may expand the burgeoning list of meds shown to improve clinical outcomes in chronic heart failure (HF) with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF).

In cursory top-line results announced last month, those in the trial of more than 8000 patients who were randomly assigned to receive omecamtiv mecarbil (Amgen/Cytokinetics/Servier) showed a slight but significant benefit for the primary end point of cardiovascular (CV) death or HF events. The hazard ratio (HR), compared with standard care, was 0.92 (95% CI, 0.86 - 0.99; P = .025), noted a press release from Amgen.

Among the announcement's few other details was a short take on safety outcomes: no difference in risk for "adverse events, including major ischemic cardiac events," between the active and control groups. The presentation is sure to provide further insights and caveats, if any, along with other information crucial to the study's interpretation.

Next on the schedule is the closely watched AFFIRM-AHF, billed as the first major outcomes trial of iron administration to iron-deficient patients with acute HF. It randomly assigned more than 1000 such patients to receive IV ferric carboxymaltose or a placebo. The first dose was given in-hospital and subsequent doses at home for 24 weeks or until patients were no longer iron deficient. They were followed to 1 year for the primary end point of recurrent HF hospitalizations or CV death.

The session wraps with the VITAL Rhythm trial, a substudy of the doubly randomized VITAL trial that explored the effects of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on CV and cancer risk in more than 25,000 patients in the community. The substudy explored the effects of two active therapies, a preparation of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (Omacor, Reliant Pharmaceuticals) or vitamin D3 supplements, on new-onset atrial fibrillation (AF) as the primary end point; it also looked at risk for sudden death.

Late-Breaking Science 2. Friday, November 13, 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM CST

Dominating the session in two presentations, the (TIPS)-3 trial explored a polypill primary-prevention strategy and daily aspirin with vitamin D supplementation in three separate placebo-controlled comparisons in more than 5700 "intermediate risk" participants 55 years and older, mostly in developing countries.

The daily polypill in this trial is a combination of hydrochlorothiazide 25 mg, atenolol 100 mg, ramipril 10 mg, and simvastatin 40 mg; aspirin was given at 75 mg daily and vitamin D at 60,000 IU monthly.

The participants are followed for a primary end point composed of major CV disease, HF, resuscitated cardiac arrest, or ischemia-driven revascularization for the polypill comparison; CV events or cancer for the aspirin comparison; and fracture risk for the vitamin D component of the trial.

In the Swedish Cardiopulmonary Bioimage Study (SCAPIS), presented third in the session, a random sample of adults from throughout Sweden, projected at about 30,000, underwent a 2-day evaluation for metabolic risk factors plus ultrasound and coronary and lung CT scans. The group has been followed for risks for myocardial infarction (MI), sudden death, and other cardiac diseases; and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other lung disorders.

Late-Breaking Science 3. Saturday, November 14, 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM CST

The field may learn more mechanistically about MI associated with nonobstructed coronary arteries (MINOCA) than ever before from the Heart Attack Research Program-Imaging Study (HARP). The observational study is enrolling a projected 450 patients with suspected MI and ischemic symptoms who were referred for cardiac catheterization.

Their evaluation includes coronary optical coherence tomographic (OCT) scanning and cardiac magnetic resonance (CMR) imaging for evidence of coronary plaque disruption as the primary end point. The patients are to be followed for 10 years for a composite of death, unstable angina, stroke, recurrent MI, diagnostic or interventional catheterization, and cardiac hospitalization.

The major direct oral anticoagulant (DOAC) comparisons with warfarin in atrial fibrillation (AF) didn't include many patients with prosthetic valve implants. In contrast, the RIVER trial enrolled 1005 adults with either persistent or paroxysmal AF and bioprosthetic mitral valves and assigned them to rivaroxaban 20 mg or the vitamin K antagonist.

The presentation will include the noninferiority primary outcome of major clinical events, which is stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA), major bleeding, death from any cause, valve thrombosis, other systemic embolism, or HF hospitalization over 12 months.

This session also includes ALPHEUS, a trial pitting ticagrelor (Brilinta/Brilique, AstraZeneca) against mainstay clopidogrel in a setting that is mostly uncharted for such comparisons, elective percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI).

About 1900 patients with stable coronary disease were randomly assigned to a month of treatment with either agent on top of continuous aspirin. The primary end point is PCI-related MI or myocardial injury within 48 hours of the procedure.

Late-Breaking Science 4. Sunday, November 15, 9:00 AM - 10:00 AM CST

The Self-Assessment Method for Statin Side-effects Or Nocebo (SAMSON) trial may be one of the AHA 2020 frontrunners for early buzz and anticipation. So it's with some irony that it's also among the smallest of the LBS studies, at 60 patients, which was nonetheless considered sufficient due to its unusual design.

SAMSON is the latest and perhaps most rigorous attempt to clarify whether symptoms, especially muscle pain or discomfort, attributed to statins by many patients are pharmacologic in origin or, rather, a nocebo effect from negative expectations about statin side effects.

The study patients, all of whom had previously halted statins because of side effects, were assigned to follow three separate regimens, each for month, in a randomized order; they did that four times, for a total of 12 months. The regimens consisted of atorvastatin 20 mg daily, a placebo, or neither.

Patients kept daily logs of any perceived side effects. Parity between side effects experienced on the statin and the placebo would point to a nocebo effect, whereas a significant excess on atorvastatin would suggest they are direct drug effects.

The session also features two randomized trials each on a unique omega-3 fatty acid preparation for either secondary prevention or high-risk primary prevention, in both cases compared with a corn-oil placebo.

The Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Elderly Patients with Myocardial Infarction (OMEMI) trial randomly assigned more than 1000 elderly post-MI patients to take Pikasol (Orkla Care) at 1.8 g EPA and DHA per day or the placebo. It looked for all-cause mortality, nonfatal MI, stroke, revascularization, or hospitalization for new or worsened HF over 24 months.

The STRENGTH trial, with a planned enrollment of about 13,000 high-vascular-risk patients, looked primarily at the effect of daily treatment with Epanova (AstraZeneca), which also contains DHA and EPA, on the composite of CV death, nonfatal MI or stroke, coronary revascularization, and hospitalization for unstable angina. The trial was halted early for low likelihood of benefit, AstraZeneca announced in January of this year.

Late-Breaking Science 5. Sunday, November 15, 7:15 PM - 8:30 PM CST

Slated for the session is the primary analysis of the PIONEER 3 trial, conducted in the United States, Europe, and Japan. It compared the BuMA Supreme biodegradable drug-coated stent (SinoMed) with the durable Xience (Abbott Vascular) and Promus (Boston Scientific) drug-eluting stents. The trial followed more than 1600 patients treated for chronic stable angina or acute coronary syndrome (ACS) for the 1-year composite of cardiac death, target-vessel-related MI, and clinically driven target-lesion revascularization.

Late-Breaking Science 6. Monday, November 16, 9:00 AM - 10:00 AM CST

The EARLY-AF trial enrolled 303 patients with symptomatic paroxysmal or persistent AF suitable for catheter ablation, assigning them to pulmonary vein isolation (PVI) by cryoablation using the Arctic Front (Medtronic) system or antiarrhythmic drug therapy for rhythm control. The primary end point is time to recurrence of AF, atrial flutter, or atrial tachycardia, whether symptomatic or asymptomatic, as determined by implantable loop recorder. Patients will also be followed for symptoms and arrhythmia burden.

Also in the session, the SEARCH-AF study randomized almost 400 patients undergoing cardiac surgery who were engaged subacutely with one of two commercial portable cardiac rhythm monitoring devices (CardioSTAT, Icentia; or SEEQ, Medtronic) or, alternatively, to receive usual postoperative care

The patients, considered to be at high risk for stroke with no history of AF, were followed for the primary end point of cumulative burden of AF or atrial flutter exceeding 6 minutes or documentation of either arrhythmia by 12-lead ECG within 30 days.

Two other studies in the session look at different approaches to AF screening, one using a handheld ECG monitor in the primary care setting and the other wearable monitors in the form of a patch or wristband. The VITAL-AF presentation is titled "Screening for Atrial Fibrillation in Older Adults at Primary Care Visits Using Single Lead Electrocardiograms." The other presentation, on the study mSToPS, is called "Three-Year Clinical Outcomes in a Nationwide, Randomized, Pragmatic Clinical Trial of Atrial Fibrillation Screening — Mhealth Screening to Prevent Strokes."

Late-Breaking Science 7. Monday, November 16, 7:00 PM - 8:30 PM CST

In the randomized FIDELIO-DKD trial with more than 5700 patients with type 2 diabetes and associated kidney disease, those assigned to the novel mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist (MRA) finerenone (Bayer) showed an 18% drop in risk for adverse renal events, including death from renal causes (= .001), over a median of 2.6 years. That primary outcome was previously presented in detail at a nephrology meeting and published in the New England Journal of Medicine in October.

Patients on the MRA showed a similar reduction in a composite CV-event end point, it was also reported at that time. A follow-up presentation at the AHA sessions promises to dive deeper into the trial's CV outcomes.

In the RAPID-CTCA study, slated next for the session, 1749 patients with suspected or confirmed intermediate-risk ACS were randomly assigned to undergo computed tomographic coronary angiography (CTCA) for guiding treatment decisions or a standard-of-care strategy. It followed patients for the primary end point of death or nonfatal MI over 1 year.

Rilonacept (Arcalyst, Kiniksa/Regeneron) is an interleukin-1α and -1β inhibitor used in several autoinflammatory diseases that went unsuccessfully before regulators for the treatment of gout. The RHAPSODY trial has now explored its use against recurrent pericarditis in a randomized trial that entered 86 patients 12 years and older who had previously experienced at least three episodes.

In top-line results reported to investors in June, patients assigned to receive the drug instead of placebo in weekly injections showed a 96% drop in risk for pericarditis recurrence and "no or minimal pain" on more than 90% of days in the trial. A full presentation is expected during this LBS session.

Also on the schedule is the THALES study, which led the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to expand indications for ticagrelor to include stroke prevention in patients with a history of acute ischemic stroke or high-risk TIA based on the trial's primary results published in July.

In THALES, more than 11,000 patients with mild to moderate acute noncardiogenic ischemic stroke or TIA were randomly assigned within 24 hours to start on daily aspirin with or without ticagrelor given as a 180 mg loading dose followed by 90 mg twice daily for 30 days.

At the end of a month, it was reported, those on dual antiplatelet therapy showed a 17% risk reduction (P = .02) for the primary end point of stroke or death, at the cost of a slight but significant increase in "severe" bleeding (0.5% vs 0.1%; P = .001).

The session is to conclude with two related studies that fell victim in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, both of which explored sotagliflozin (Zynquista, Sanofi/Lexicon), an inhibitor of both sodium-glucose cotransporters 1 and 2 (SGLT1 and SGLT2, respectively) in patients with type 2 diabetes.

SOLOIST-WHF had entered 1222 such patients hospitalized with urgent or worsening HF at 466 centers and randomly assigned them to receive sotagliflozin or placebo; they were followed for the composite of CV death or HF events. SCORED reached an enrollment of 10,584 patients with diabetes and chronic kidney disease at 754 hospitals, following them for the same primary end point.

Lexicon announced in March that the trials would be "closed out early" because of the unavailability of funding "together with uncertainties relating to the COVID-19 pandemic on the trials." The LBS presentation is expected to include analyses of available data; SOLOIST-WHF launched in summer 2018 and SCORED began in November 2017.

Late-Breaking Science 8. Tuesday, November 17, 9:00 AM - 10:00 AM CST

Most of this LBS session is devoted to the AHA COVID-19 Cardiovascular Disease registry, which is looking at the hospital journey, clinical course, and outcomes of patients hospitalized with SARS-CoV-2 infections at centers participating in the organization's Get With The Guidelines (GWTG) quality-improvement program. As of September, the registry included data from more than 15,000 patients.

Scheduled presentations include a summary of the registry's design and initial results; an analysis of racial and ethnic variation in therapy and clinical outcomes; an exploration of how body mass index influenced outcomes, including death, use of mechanical ventilation, and cardiovascular end points, in patients with COVID-19; and a deep dive into the relation between CV disease and clinical outcomes in the cohort.

The last of this LBS block's five talks will cover the randomized Influenza Vaccine to Effectively Stop Cardio Thoracic Events and Decompensated Heart Failure (INVESTED) trial, which compared vaccination with high-dose trivalent influenza vaccine or a standard-dose quadrivalent vaccine in 5388 adults with a history of hospitalization for either MI or HF. Patients were required to have at least one other CV risk factor, such as older age, reduced left ventricular ejection fraction, or diabetes.

INVESTED tracked the patients at 190 centers across an initial pilot flu season and three subsequent flu seasons for the primary end point of death from any cause or cardiopulmonary hospitalization.

The trial is one of at least three that have been looking at the effect of flu vaccination on cardiovascular outcomes; results from the other two — IAMI, with more than 2500 participants, and RCT-IVVE, with an enrollment of 4871 — are planned for presentation in 2021, theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology recently reported.

Late-Breaking Science 9. Tuesday, November 17, 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM CST

The conference's concluding LBS session features three studies that relied on technologic strategies for modifying patient compliance and other care behaviors and one that used human-centered design principles to develop a group-care model aimed improving the management of diabetes, hypertension, and other noncommunicable diseases in economically disadvantaged regions of Kenya.

The EPIC-HF trial tested a strategy for improving HFrEF medication-plan engagement by use of a video and documents delivered to patients several times by email or text prior to their follow-up clinic appointments. The strategy was compared with usual care for its effect on HF-medication optimization over 1 month and 1 year in a total of 306 patients.

Following EPIC-HF on the schedule is the MYROAD trial, looking at the efficacy of discharge instructions provided to patients with acute HF as an audio recording that they and their physicians could replay on demand, the idea being to increase adherence to the instructions. The trial's 1073 patients were assigned to the novel strategy or usual care and followed for HF rehospitalization within 30 days.

MYROAD is to be followed by a presentation entitled "Digital Care Transformation: One-Year Report of >5,000 Patients Enrolled in a Remote Algorithm-Based CV Risk Management Program to Achieve Optimal Lipid and Hypertension Control."

Rounding out the LBS session: the Bridging Income Generation With Group Integrated Care (BIGPIC) program, a pilot study that developed and executed "a healthcare delivery model targeting health behaviors, medication adherence, and financial barriers to accessing healthcare" in four rural counties in Kenya.

The model features locally developed plans, tailored for regional needs, that are said to "combine the benefits of microfinance with the peer support available through group medical care to enhance management of hypertension and diabetes." The microfinance component is aimed at improving household economies to alleviate the financial burden of care and clinic attendance, and for the health effects of improved quality of life.

The study randomized 2890 adults with diabetes or prediabetes to one of four groups: usual care plus microfinance group support, group medical visits only or combined with microfinance group support, or usual care only. They were followed for changes in systolic blood pressure and CV-risk score over 12 months.

Lloyd-Jones and Fauci declared no conflicts.

Follow Steve Stiles on Twitter: @SteveStiles2. For more from theheart.org | Medscape Cardiology, follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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