Finerenone Signals Pneumonia, COVID-19 Benefits

Mitchel L. Zoler, PhD

October 26, 2022

The nonsteroidal mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist finerenone (Kerendia) unexpectedly showed that it might protect against incident infective pneumonia and COVID-19. The finding was based on secondary analyses run on more than 13,000 people enrolled in the two pivotal trials for finerenone.

Finerenone was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2021 for slowing progressive renal dysfunction and preventing cardiovascular events in adults with type 2 diabetes and chronic kidney disease (CKD).

"Striking Reduction in the Risk of Pneumonia"

The "striking reduction in risk of pneumonia" in a new analysis suggests that "the propagation of pulmonary infection into lobar or bronchial consolidation may be reduced by finerenone," write Bertram Pitt, MD, and co-authors in a report published on October 26 in JAMA Network Open.

They also suggest that if further studies confirm that finerenone treatment reduces complications from pneumonia and COVID-19, it would have "significant medical implications," especially because of the limited treatment options now available for complications from COVID-19.

The new analyses used the FIDELITY dataset, a prespecified merging of results from the FIDELIO-DKD and FIGARO-DKD trials, which together enrolled 13,026 people with type 2 diabetes and CKD, as determined on the basis of the patients' having a urine albumin-to-creatinine ratio of at least 30 mg/g.

The primary outcomes of these trials showed that treatment with finerenone led to significant slowing of the progression of CKD and a significant reduction in the incidence of cardiovascular events compared with placebo during median follow-up of 3 years.

The new, secondary analyses focused on the 6.0% of participants in whom there was evidence of pneumonia and the 1.6% in whom there was evidence of having COVID-19. Pneumonia was the most common serious adverse event in the two trials, a finding consistent with the documented risk for pneumonia faced by people with CKD.

Finerenone Linked With a 29% Relative Reduction in Pneumonia

When analyzed by treatment, the incidence of pneumonia was 4.7% among those who received finerenone and 6.7% among those who received placebo. This translated into a significant relative risk reduction of 29% associated with finerenone treatment.

Analysis of COVID-19 adverse events showed a 1.3% incidence among those who received finerenone and a 1.8% incidence among those in the placebo group, which translated into a significant 27% relative risk reduction linked with finerenone treatment.

In contrast, the data showed no reduced incidence of several other respiratory infections among the finerenone recipients, including nasopharyngitis, bronchitis, and influenza. The data also showed no signal that pneumonia or COVID-19 was more severe among the people who did not receive finerenone, nor did finerenone treatment appear to affect pneumonia recovery.

Analysis Based on Adverse Events Reports

These secondary analyses are far from definitive. The authors relied on pneumonia and COVID-19 being reported as adverse events. Each investigator diagnosed pneumonia at their discretion, and the trials did not specify diagnostic criteria. The authors also acknowledge that testing for COVID-19 was "not widespread" and that one of the two pivotal trials largely ran prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic so that only six participants developed COVID-19 symptoms out of more than 5700 enrolled.

The authors hypothesize that several actions of finerenone might potentially help mediate an effect on pneumonia and COVID-19: improvements in pulmonary inflammation and fibrosis, upregulation of expression of angiotensin converting enzyme 2, and amelioration of right heart pressure and pulmonary congestion. Also, antagonizing the mineralocorticoid receptor on monocytes and macrophages my block macrophage infiltration and accumulation of active macrophages, which can mediate the pulmonary tissue damage caused by COVID-19.

The FIDELIO-DKD and FIGARO-DKD trials and the FIDELITY combined database were sponsored by Bayer, the company that markets finerenone (Kerendia). Pitt has received personal fees from Bayer and personal fees and stock options from numerous other companies. Several co-authors reported having a financial relationship with Bayer, as well as with other companies.

JAMA Netw Open. Published online October 26, 2022.

Mitchel L. Zoler is a reporter with Medscape and MDedge based in the Philadelphia region. @mitchelzoler.

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