Dapagliflozin Misses as Treatment for COVID-19 but Leaves Intriguing Signal for Benefit

Ted Bosworth

May 18, 2021

In patients hospitalized with COVID-19 infection, the sodium-glucose transporter 2 inhibitor dapagliflozin showed a trend for benefit relative to placebo on multiple outcomes, including the primary outcome of time to organ failure or death, according to results from the randomized DARE-19 trial.

Because of the failure to reach statistical significance, these results have no immediate relevance, but the trends support interest in further testing SGLT2 inhibitors in acute diseases posing a high risk for organ failure, according to Mikhail Kosiborod, MD.

In a trial that did not meet its primary endpoint, Kosiborod acknowledged that positive interpretations are speculative, but he does believe that there is one immediate take-home message.

"Our results do not support discontinuation of SGLT2 inhibitors in the setting of COVID-19 as long as patients are monitored," said Kosiborod, director of cardiometabolic research at Saint Luke's Mid-America Heart Institute, Kansas City, Mo.

At many institutions, it has been common to discontinue SGLT2 inhibitors in patients admitted with COVID-19. One reason was the concern that drugs in this class could exacerbate organ damage, particularly if they were to induced ketoacidosis. However, only 2 (0.003%) of 613 patients treated with dapagliflozin developed ketoacidosis, and the signal for organ protection overall, although not significant, was consistent.

"Numerically, fewer patients treated with dapagliflozin experienced organ failure and death, and this was consistent across systems, including the kidney," Kosiborod said in presenting the study at the annual scientific sessions of the American College of Cardiology.

Overall, the study suggests that, in the context of COVID-19, dapagliflozin did not show harm and might have potential benefit, he added.

DARE-19 was rapidly conceived, designed, and implemented during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on prior evidence that SGLT2 inhibitors "favorably affect a number of pathophysiologic pathways disrupted during acute illness" and that drugs in this class have provided organ protection in the context of heart failure, chronic kidney disease, and other cardiometabolic conditions, the study was designed to test the hypothesis that this mechanism might improve outcomes in patients hospitalized with COVID-19, Kosiborod said.

The entry criteria included confirmed or suspected COVID-19 with an onset of 4 days of fewer and one additional risk factor, such as atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, hypertension, or type 2 diabetes. Patients with significant renal impairment or a history of diabetic ketoacidosis were excluded.

On top of standard treatments for COVID-19, patients were randomized to 10 mg dapagliflozin or placebo once daily. There were two primary endpoints. That of prevention was time to criteria for respiratory, cardiovascular, or renal organ failure or death. The second primary outcome, for recovery, was a hierarchical composite for four endpoints: death, organ failure, status at 30 days if hospitalized, and time to discharge if this occurred before day 30.

Of the 1,250 patients randomized at 95 sites in seven countries, 617 in the dapagliflozin group and 620 patients in the placebo group completed the study. Baseline characteristics, which included a mean of age of 62 years; types of comorbidities; and types of treatments were similar.

Results for Two Primary Endpoints

The curves for the primary outcome of prevention had already separated by day 3 and continued to widen over the 30 days in which outcomes were compared. At the end of 30 days, 11.2% of the dapagliflozin group and 13.8% of the placebo group had an event. By hazard ratio, dapagliflozin was linked to 20% nonsignificant relative protection from events (hazard ratio, 0.80; 95% confidence interval, 0.58-1.10).

The trend (P = .168) for the primary endpoint for prevention was reflected in the individual components. For dapagliflozin related to placebo, there were generally similar or greater reductions in new or worsening organ failure (HR, 0.80), cardiac decompensation (HR, 0.81), respiratory decompensation (HR, 0.85), and kidney decompensation (HR, 0.65). None were statistically significant, but the confidence intervals were tight with the upper end never exceeding 1.20.

Moreover, the relative risk reduction for all-cause mortality moved in the same direction (HR, 0.77; 95% CI, 0.52-1.16).

In the hierarchical composite endpoint of recovery, there was no significant difference in the time to discharge, but again many recovery metrics numerically favored dapagliflozin with an overall difference producing a statistical trend (P = .14) similar to organ failure events and death.

In safety analyses, dapagliflozin consistently outperformed placebo across a broad array of safety measure, including any severe adverse event (65% vs. 82%), any adverse event with an outcome of death (32% vs. 48%), discontinuation caused by an adverse event (44% vs. 55%), and acute kidney injury (21% vs. 34%).

Data Could Fuel Related Studies

According to Ana Barac, MD, PhD, director of the cardio-oncology program in the Medstar Heart and Vascular Institute, Washington, these data are "thought provoking." Although this was a negative trial, she said that it generates an "exciting hypothesis" about the potential of SGLT2 inhibitors to provide organ protection. She called for studies to pursue this path of research.

More immediately, Barac agreed that these data argue against stopping SGLT2 inhibitors in patients admitted to a hospital for COVID-19 infection.

"These data show that these drugs are not going to lead to harm, but they might lead to benefit," she said.

For James Januzzi, MD, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, both in Boston, DARE-19 was perhaps most impressive because of its rigorous design and execution in the midst of a pandemic.

Over the past year, "the medical literature was flooded with grossly underpowered, poorly designed, single-center studies" yielding results that have been hard to interpret, Januzzi said. Despite the fact that this study failed to confirm its hypothesis, he said the investigators deserve praise for the quality of the work.

Januzzi also believes the study is not without clinically relevant findings, particularly the fact that dapagliflozin was associated with a lower rate of adverse events than placebo. This, at least, provides reassurance about the safety of this drug in the setting of COVID-19 infection.

Kosiborod reported financial relationships with more than 10 pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca, which provided funding for DARE-19. Barac reported financial relationships with Bristol-Myers Squibb and CTI BioPharma. Januzzi reported financial relationships with Boehringer Ingelheim, GE Healthcare, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Novartis, Pfizer, and Roche.

American College of Cardiology (ACC) 2021 Scientific Session: Session 411-16. Presented May 16, 2021.

This article originally appeared on MDEdge.com.

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