New Evidence Fuels Concerns About The Safety Of Niacin Reply

The string of failures– for HDL therapies in general and for niacin in particular– continues unabated.  The publication of the main results of the HPS2-THRIVE trial, along with new information from the AIM-HIGH trial, provide no evidence of a beneficial effect for niacin but do fuel concerns that it may cause serious adverse effects.

Click here to read the full post on Forbes.



HPS2-THRIVE: A ‘Disappointing But Clear’ Result Reply

The results of HPS2-THRIVE were “disappointing but clear,”  said Jane Armitage, who presented the results this morning at the ACC in San Francisco.

HPS2-THRIVE randomized 25,673 high-risk patients who could tolerate niacin to either placebo or extended-release niacin plus laropiprant (Tredaptive, Merck), an anti-flushing agent, in addition to background therapy. The primary endpoint was the time to first major vascular event, defined as the composite of non-fatal MI or coronary death, any stroke or any arterial revascularization.

Major vascular events occurred in 13.2% of the niacin arm and 13.7% of the placebo arm (p=0.29), despite causing average reductions in LDL of 10 mg.dL and triglycerides of 33 mg/dL, in addition to a 6 mg/dL increase in HDL. Armitrage reported that based on data from previous trials and observational studies, “it was anticipated such lipid differences might translate into a 10-15% reduction in vascular events.”

HPS2-THRIVE study chairman, Rory Collins, responded to a question in the press conference: “To the question is niacin dead? Well, it’s not healthy!”

Click here to read the full story on Forbes.


HPS2-THRIVE Coming Attraction: First Look At What Went Wrong With Niacin Reply

In a few weeks, on March 9, the main results of the HPS2-THRIVE (Heart Protection Study 2-Treatment of HDL to Reduce the Incidence of Vascular Events) study will be presented in San Francisco at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology. These results have been eagerly awaited since Merck’s brief announcement in December that the trial had not met its primary endpoint and that it would no longer pursue approval of Tredaptive, the combination of extended-release niacin and laropiprant, in the US. The trial was designed to assess whether adding the niacin/laropiprant combination to standard statin therapy in high risk individuals would further reduce vascular events.

Now, serving almost as a coming attraction for the main event at the ACC, an important substudy from HPS2-THRIVE has been published in the European Heart JournalThe paper discusses the trial design, the pre-specified muscle and liver outcomes, and the reasons for stopping treatment during the trial.

Click here to read the full story in Forbes.

European Heart Journal

Trials Of Niacin And Atrial Fibrillation Device Will Headline American College Of Cardiology Program Reply

Two big trials will highlight this year’s American College of Cardiology meeting in March in San Francisco. First is the PREVAIL trial testing Boston Scientific‘s long-anticipated Watchman left atrial appendage closure device for stroke prevention in patients with atrial fibrillation. Second is  the detailed presentation of the controversial failed HPS2-THRIVE trial of extended-release niacin and laropiprant.

Read my complete story on Forbes, along with a list of the late-breakers. 

ACC.13 logo


Merck Starts To Suspend Worldwide Availability Of Tredaptive Reply

In the wake of the negative HPS2-THRIVE study announced last month, Merck said today that it was beginning to suspend the worldwide availability of Tredaptive, its combination of extended-release niacin and laropiprant.

Click here to read the full story on Forbes.

Should Niacin Still Be Prescribed? William Boden Versus Harlan Krumholz 1

In the wake of HPS2-THRIVE many have argued that there is no longer any reason to prescribe niacin. William Boden, the lead investigator of AIM-HIGH and COURAGE, thinks there were enough flaws in the design of the niacin trials to justify the cautious use of niacin in certain circumstances. Says Boden:

“There is evidence of clinical outcome improvement (i.e., CHD death/MI reduction) from VA-HIT for gemfibrozil; there is similar clinical outcome improvement for niacin from the Coronary Drug Project. Numerous studies show niacin’s benefit on surrogate outcome measures (i.e., quantitative coronary angiography, IVUS, cIMT, etc.). What more evidence do you need?”

” I have not given up on niacin.”

Harlan Krumholz  disagrees:

“We have to face the facts about the trials. They have failed to be supportive, and despite concerns about their flaws, they were developed by some of the best minds in our profession (including yours) and had millions of dollars devoted to them. I just feel that we cannot justify millions of people being prescribed a drug that has failed in two recent, large, prominent trials, which actually had signals of harm…”

Read the entire fascinating discussion over on CardioExchange.


William Boden

Harlan Krumholz

Harlan Krumholz

HPS2-THRIVE: No Benefit, Signal Of Harm For Niacin Therapy 3

The largest-ever study of niacin has failed to show a clinical benefit for niacin and even found a strong signal of harm. Merck announced today that the HPS2-THRIVE (Heart Protection Study 2-Treatment of HDL to Reduce the Incidence of Vascular Events) study did not meet its primary endpoint. In that study, the combination of a statin and Merck’s niacin compound, Tredaptive, a combination of extended-release niacin and laropiprant, an anti-flushing agent, was compared to statin therapy alone in 25,673 patients at high risk for cardiovascular events.

After a median followup of 3.9 years, the combination of niacin and laropiprant “did not significantly further reduce the risk of the combination of coronary deaths, non-fatal heart attacks, strokes or revascularizations compared to statin therapy,” according to Merck. Even more troubling, the company reported that there was “a statistically significant increase in the incidence of some types of non-fatal serious adverse events in the group that received extended-release niacin/laropiprant.”

Ball-and-stick model of the niacin molecule, a...

Merck said it was now no longer planning to seek approval of Tredaptive in the United States. The drug’s initial application for approval in the US was rejected in 2008. HPS2-THRIVE was designed to answer criticism from the FDA and other experts about the lack of any evidence demonstrating clinical benefit.

Tredaptive (also known as Cordaptive in some places) is approved in some countries outside the US. Merck said it is “recommending that providers not start new patients” on the drug. It is unclear whether the drug will remain on the market in these places.

Although niacin, a natural vitamin, has been used for decades to raise HDL, a clinical benefit has never been demonstrated. In 2011 the NIH’s  AIM-HIGH trial found no benefit for extended-release niacin. Critics said the trial was underpowered and otherwise flawed. HPS2-THRIVE, most agreed, would provide a more definitive test of the effect of niacin.

HPS2-THRIVE adds to the string of failures associated with trials of HDL-related therapies, although some hope remains for CETP inhibitors, despite the failure of two large clinical trials. It appears likely that the results of HPS2-THRIVE will also impact the use of existing niacin products. Bernstein analyst Timothy Anderson said it may “cause some collateral damage to AbbVie’s Niaspan.”

Responding to the breaking news, Steve Nissen said he had three initial thoughts about the trial:

What were the “non-fatal serious adverse events” that showed a statistically significant increase?

Did the study fail because of niacin or laropiprant?

We will need to decide whether to withdraw patients from niacin.

Update: Here’s a terrific comment posted below from cardiologist John Osborne:

Also don’t forget that this trial did not have a cut-off for HDL, so that patients could have any level of HDL and still get into this trial, not just patients with low HDL where presumptively the greatest benefit would be seen, according to the HDL-raising hypothesis. We will need to see how this sub-group responded, which was a pre-specified sub-group analysis. As far as the vague “excess of non-fatal serious adverse events”, it is no surprise given the known issues with the use of niacin, such as flushing (even occasionally to the point of causing vasodilation resulting in rare syncope), hyperuricemia, gout and gout flares, peptic ulcer disease, and hyperglycemia. If these non-fatal adverse events were higher int the niacin-laropriprant arm, I would not be at all surprised. If, however, we saw an excess of non-fatal strokes, as a tendency was seen in AIM-HIGH, that would be much more concerning. Obviously science and medical care cannot and should not be based on lay press reports and we need to see and digest all the data from this trial when it comes out. Stay by your radios (and Internet feeds), my friends!

Update #2: James Stein sent the following comment:

HPS did not THRIVE!  I am disappointed.  It suggests that in people on a statin with well controlled LDL and non-HDL cholesterol levels, adding niacin may not reduce CVD risk.  I still think niacin is a useful drug for those who can’t reach goals on statins or who can’t take them, and for selected patients with combined dyslipidemia.  However, this may be as much about laropiprant as it is about niacin. I am especially concerned about the increase in non-fatal serious adverse events in the group that received extended-release niacin/laropiprant. You may recall that the idea for using laropiprant was to improve the tolerability of niacin by blocking flushing. However a close look at the laropiprant data for its effectiveness as a flushing blocker showed that at the dose it was being used at, it was not significantly better than adult dose aspirin.

More worrisome, pre-clinical Merck research showed an off-target effect of laropiprant on platelet DP1 receptors. Bleeding times were not prolonged, so the meaning of this off-target effect is unclear, but this is evidence that the drug may affect more than just the DP1 receptor on dermal blood vessels.   We know DP1 receptors also are on neurons and lung tissue, among other places.  We in the lipid world need to be very humble about off target effects – even if we can’t explain them with our current knowledge base.

Click here to read the Merck press release…