Tag: cardiovascular disease

Recon takes an analytical look behind select developments in healthcare

An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for January-February 2021

Gene therapy in beta-thalassemia and sickle cell anemia Beta-thalassemia and sickle cell anemia are common genetic diseases of hemoglobin (Hb) which manifest themselves in the former through transfusion dependence, in the latter through painful vaso-occlusive crises that frequently land patients in the hospital in a pitiful state. BlueBird’s lentiglobin therapy is an ex-vivo gene therapy in which autologous stem cells are harvested, transfected with new HbA gene, and then returned to the patient. Because the HbA is slightly modified via a single amino-acid substitution (HbAT87Q), expression is trackable.  Now in

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While we wait for our shot(s); an opinionated take on NEJM highlights for January 2021

Incremental progress in the fight to treat heart failure After a decade or more of relative quiescence in the 2000s, a volley of new therapies have come to the forefront in the pages of the NEJM: sacubitril valsartan (2014 – Novartis’ Entresto), various SGLT2 inhibitors such as dapagliflozin (2019, AstraZeneca’s Farxiga), vericiguat (2020 – Merck’s Verquvo), and now a 2021 entry from Amgen in the form of the cardiac myosin activator omecamtiv mecarbil. None of those are a panacea, and of the four listed, omecamtiv has the lowest efficacy profile

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Closing a tough year: An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for December 2020

Cardiovascular health – go big or go narrow? A follow up on the development of evinacumab (Regeneron), an inhibitor of ANGPLT3 (see this opinionated take from 2017), confirming the safety and LDL reduction effect in a population of individuals with cholesterol levels refractory to other therapies (including PCSK9 inhibitors).  Given the history of PCSK9 inhibitors, the development path of this asset will be interesting to follow. Of the 6 trials listed on clinicaltrials.gov not one has anything close to a clinical endpoint – it’s all biomarker based. That will probably

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We are back and catching-up: An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for Sep, Oct, and Nov 2020

Small but real progress in ALS: Despite enormous public attention and significant effort, ALS remains a disease for which the development of new therapies has been challenging. Animal models showed potential activity against ALS by sodium phenylbutyrate and taurursodiol, both old (generic) molecules. Now, their effect in combination therapy has been confirmed in a randomized controlled trial.  What’s especially interesting is that the effect at 24 weeks (the original duration of the trial) was a modest though statistically significant improvement in functional scores. However, the trial was extended with all

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Tax dollars doing good work: An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for December 2019

The loneliness of the patent-less drug Colchicine is a very old drug commonly used in gout with an anti-inflammatory mechanism of action that is not well defined. It is a generic (although in the US, the story is somewhat peculiar) and therefore incentives are lacking for further development in new indications by private companies. Given a well-established (but not well-understood) connection between inflammation and cardiovascular events, some researchers have hypothesized and explored potential utility in patients with high cardiovascular risk – but this would have to be validated by a

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An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for May 2019

TAVR for all? TAVR has become the standard of care for patients who need an aortic value replacement but are at high/medium surgical risk.  But what about those at low-risk? Two studies answer that question, one with the Edwards device and the other with Medtronics. Both show that TAVR is superior along a number of end-points (stroke, hospitalization duration, atrial fibrillation) both at 30 days and at 1-2 year. Long-term outcomes remain a question though. Low-risk patients are younger (mean age 73-74) and will live with their valves longer, which

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An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for March 2019

Target assessment with genetic polymorphisms Please bear with me for a long (but interesting!) story. Bempedoic acid (Esperion) is an inhibitor of ATP citrate lyase (ACLY), an enzyme in the cholesterol synthesis pathway (upstream of HMG-CoA reductase, the target of statins). In a study of 2,230 patients at high risk for cardiovascular events, on maximum statin therapy, and LDL > 70 (basically the PCSK9 target population), bempedoic acid was well tolerated and lowered the LDL by around 16% – a substantial effect. This would potentially position bempedoic acid, an oral

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Eating your way out of disease: An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for November 2018

Peanut medicine that won’t cost peanuts Allergy to peanuts is a major issue and though prevention is now possible in infants there is a huge population for whom actual survival is connected to vigilance in what they consume and availability of epi-pens. Desensitization to allergens is a well-established method to overcome an allergy, but it is typically done through injections, and it requires well calibrated micro-doses of the allergen.  Aimmune has been pursuing an oral approach with progressive dosing with peanut protein (AR101) and in a phase 3 trial, two

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An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for September 2018

Primary care organizations are better ACOs when it comes to achieving savings Initial results from the Medicare Shared Savings Program ACO have been disappointing pointing to small to negligible net effects on net spending, but a clever analysis digging into the details shows that there is a silver lining. The key insight is to distinguish between ACOs that are health systems and those that are physician practice groups: health systems show no net savings (after bonus incentive payments) while physician group ACOs do. In the physician group ACOs, the savings

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An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for April 2018

Are we nearing an asymptote with implantable cardiac pumps? Severe heart failure is common, and spare hearts for transplant are rare, which has led to the development of implantable mechanical alternatives. In the last few decades, progress has been immense, and in the latest installment of a 3rd (4th?) generation pump, outcomes have reached a level where survival of several years is the rule. Still, at every iteration incremental improvement is less, and performance remains well behind what happens with transplant in terms of complications such as infection, stroke, or

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An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for February 2018

A-fib in heart failure – time to be aggressive Over the last 15 years, there has been a growing body of evidence for the effectiveness of catheter ablation to treat atrial fibrillation (a-fib), a condition for which the standard of care has been anti-arrhythmic medications. A-fib commonly coexists with heart failure but until now it has not been clear whether medication or catheter ablation would be the preferred treatment – we now have the answer, at least for patients with a substantially reduced ejection fraction. In a randomized trial of

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Between the very common and the very rare – An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for October 2017

Between the very common and the very rare – An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for October 2017   Another tool for prevention in cardiovascular disease Taking aspirin daily has been standard of care for cardiovascular disease for decades, but attempts to demonstrate the additive usefulness of other agents to prevent clot formation have not been successful. Now things have changed: in a large study of patients with established cardiovascular disease, those who took rivaroxaban (Xarelto, Bayer) daily on top of aspirin did markedly better than with aspirin alone, although

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An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for July 2017

Taking stock: two decades of progress in heart failure: Here comes a clever study using existing clinical trial data to assess progress in standard of care over time for heart failure. For each trial, the authors assessed the rate of sudden cardiac death during the early part of the study (excluding patients with ICDs), and it appears that between 1995 and 2014, it decreased by nearly half.  As always, in observational retrospective studies, one has to worry about systematic biases around the population that are included (i.e. are they really

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An opinionated take on NEJM highlights for May 2017

A hammer finds new nails (which happen to be eyeballs) The insulin growth factor receptor 1 (IGF-1R) was once upon a time a popular cancer target pursued by multiple biopharmas each with their own humanized antibody, and each without much success. In 2013, River Vision licensed the Roche compound teprotumumab, to treat Graves’ ophthalmopathy, a condition in which hyperactivity of the thyroid gland causes (among many other issues) bulging eyeballs with esthetic, comfort, and sometimes severe visual implications for which treatment options are limited. Nobody quite knows why the ocular

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April was a light month: an opinionated take on NEJM highlights for April 2017

Calendaring care The length of our sidereal year is an accident – we happen to be circling a G2 star from which the habitable zone where free surface liquid water can exist lies at around 150,000,000 km; by Newton’s laws this in turn corresponds to an orbital period that is our year.  Even if it is not particularly strongly connected to the underlying human biology, a lot of healthcare cycles are aligned to the Earth Year for convenience but is it effective and efficient? Individuals with diabetes are at risk

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A population health approach to value-based drug pricing

Working Paper   Summary Drug companies are naturally incentivized to price their drugs under assumptions of optimal clinical value, i.e. as high as possible.  Payers react to this by setting stringent conditions for patient eligibility for coverage of those therapies. As a consequence, patients who do not meet these conditions do not receive those drugs even though they could derive benefit, albeit not of a magnitude that would justify the cost.  Here we lay out a population health based scheme by which payers and drug companies can design a system

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Regeneration and mitigation: an opinionated take on NEJM highlights for March 2017

Gene therapy for sickle cell disease Typical diseases targeted by gene therapy are those for which there is a defect that prevents the production of a functional protein needed for normal life; remediation is achieved by inserting functioning copies of the gene, and fortunately, it is usually the case that expression at a low level is sufficient to greatly improve outcomes. The situation is different in sickle cell where the defective hemoglobin is actually harmful, and where success of gene therapy requires not only production normal hemoglobin, but replacement of

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NEJM Highlights for May 2016: Referral for surgery, and a miscellany of interesting biochemistry

Surgical volume and referral for surgery: The impact of surgical volume on outcomes has been well documented, but is it top of mind with physicians referring patients to surgery? Readers of the Journal were polled on a hypothetical scenario whereby a community physician would be referring a patient in need of a major surgical procedure to either a nearby community hospital with a well-respected general surgeon doing approximately 5 of these cases a year versus a tertiary medical center 40 miles away. The great majority of readers chose the option

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NEJM Highlights November 2015: systems biology, RSV progress, a first in diabetes, hypertension goals, the case of Maryland

Systems biology finally gets real: an unexpected use for a diabetes drug Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML) has been the poster child first for a disease with a precise genetic cause (the Philadelphia chromosome), and then for targeted drug design (with imatinib – Gleevec). Unfortunately, few patients achieve a complete response to therapy which means that they have to stay on drug indefinitely. This commentary highlights recent research which shows that pioglitazone (Actos), an approved diabetes drug that activates a specific cellular pathway (STAT5) can synergistically enhance treatment with Gleevec to

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NEJM Highlights for June 2015: the flavor of the month is distinctly cardiovascular

Interventionalist treatment for stroke: In the 80s and 90s, treatment of myocardial infraction was greatly advanced by the introduction of systemic clot busting drugs (t-PA and others); further advance occurred in the 90s when it was shown that immediate cardiac catheterization produced even better results. Acute embolic stroke has followed the same path – in the 90s, it was shown that t-PA treatment within 3 hours of onset of symptoms was beneficial, and ever since there has been a move toward treatment modalities where an interventional radiologist acts on the

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