Addressing residual cardiovascular risk: what does the future hold?*

Br J Cardiol 2012;19(Suppl 1):s1-s16doi:10.5837/bjc.2012.s05 Leave a comment
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Sponsorship Statement: This supplement has been sponsored by Roche Products Limited. It Is based on the proceedings of the inaugural meeting of the Cardiometabolic Forum, held at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, London, on 24th November 2011. The Cardiometabolic Forum is an academic group jointly set up by The British Journal of Cardiology and HEART UK – The Cholesterol Charity. The Forum was responsible for developing the scientific programme, inviting the speakers and chairing the meeting. It approached Roche Products Limited for sponsorship and Roche Products Limited underwrote the costs of the meeting, the speakers’ travel expenses and honoraria, and the writing, development and distribution of this supplement. Roche Products reviewed this supplement for ABPI compliance before publication but otherwise had no input into the content of either the meeting or this supplement. 

Insights from the world of cardiology

There is conclusive evidence that lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels with statins reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease events. However, it is also clear that a substantial residual cardiovascular risk persists, despite best treatment efforts.1,2 Some of this residual risk will be determined by modifiable risk factors, such as lipids, hypertension, tobacco use and diabetes. Further reducing apolipoprotein (apo) B-containing atherogenic lipoproteins or increasing atheroprotective lipoproteins, specifically raising high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol,2 are alternative proposed approaches to reducing this risk.

Other ways to reduce apoB lipoproteins

Based on regression analysis of major studies, further reduction of LDL cholesterol levels below current targets ( <1.5 mmol/L or 57 mg/dL) may have potential.3 Due to safety concerns with high-dose statin therapy, other approaches for reducing apoB levels are being investigated (table 1), although clinical outcomes data are so far not available.

Table 1. Reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels: potential options
Table 1. Reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels: potential options

Reducing apoB synthesis (e.g. mipomersen, a novel anti-sense oligonucleotide) may be one approach. In moderate hyperlipidaemia (mean LDL cholesterol 4.47 mmol/L) treatment with mipomersen (200–300 mg/week) was associated with ∼45–60% reduction in LDL cholesterol and apoB-containing lipoproteins, and ∼50% reduction in triglycerides, exceeding that observed with statins.4 Mipomersen also reduced lipoprotein(a) (Lp[a]),4 recognised as an additional cardiovascular risk factor.5 However, the frequency of liver enzyme elevations and

risk of hepatic steatosis (fatty liver) require further evaluation.4

The nuclear receptors known as peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors (PPARs) and liver X receptors (LXRs) are lipid-activated transcription factors that have emerged as key regulators of lipid metabolism and inflammation. Agents acting at these receptors are under investigation. Additionally, eprotirome (KB2115), a thyroid hormone analogue that is poorly taken up by heart and bone, can favourably modulate lipid profiles. In statin-treated patients, eprotirome produced dose-related reductions in LDL cholesterol levels (by up to ∼30%). Similar reductions were also observed for triglycerides and Lp(a).6

Targeting LDL-receptor expression is another possibility. LDL is taken up through LDL-receptors on the cell surface. These LDL-receptors are either recycled back to the cell surface or are directed by proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9) to degradation. A genetically upregulated PCSK9 is a cause of familial hypercholesterolaemia, while low PCSK9 activity protects against atheroma.7,8 These data suggest that inhibition of PCSK9 may have therapeutic potential.

Inhibition of microsomal transfer proteins (MTP), which are involved in the assembly of hepatic very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) and gut chylomicron lipoprotein particles, may be another target. The oral MTP inhibitor lomitapide, given as monotherapy or in combination with ezetimibe, lowered LDL cholesterol and apoB levels by ∼50% in patients with familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH) or moderate hypercholesterolaemia.9,10 However, the clinical utility of these agents may be restricted by their potential to induce elevation of liver enzymes and hepatic steatosis,9,10 although lomitapide was granted orphan drug designation in December 2010 for familial hyperchylomicronaemia.11 To overcome these adverse hepatic effects, non-absorbable, enterocyte-selective inhibitors of MTP are under investigation.12

Targeting non-LDL lipids

An alternative approach is to target non-LDL lipids. In post-hoc analyses of prospective trials in high-risk patients, elevated triglycerides or low plasma concentrations of HDL cholesterol have been associated with residual cardiovascular risk, even among patients achieving low LDL cholesterol.13,14 The evidence for elevated triglycerides alone as a cardiovascular risk factor is contentious. In contrast, observational studies conclusively established HDL cholesterol as an important predictor of cardiovascular risk, independent of LDL cholesterol levels and other lipid and non-lipid factors.15 The combination of low HDL cholesterol and elevated triglycerides, one of the defining features of the metabolic syndrome, is associated with increased cardiovascular risk.16

Targeting HDL cholesterol to reduce residual cardiovascular risk is, therefore, an attractive hypothesis. Nicotinic acid (niacin) is currently the only agent available that effectively raises HDL cholesterol, as well as lowering LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and Lp(a). In the Coronary Drug Project, treatment with nicotinic acid (immediate-release formulation 3 g/day) was associated with modest reduction in non-fatal myocardial infarction at the end of treatment and 11% reduction in all-cause mortality (p=0.0004) at 15 years (∼9 years after the end of treatment).17

However, the AIM-HIGH (Atherothrombosis Intervention in Metabolic Syndrome with Low HDL Cholesterol/High Triglyceride and Impact on Global Health Outcomes) study18 was prematurely terminated 18 months ahead of schedule because extended-release nicotinic acid offered no additional benefits in these statin-treated patients with cardiovascular disease. A number of caveats need to be borne in mind; this event-driven trial was not sufficiently powered, achieved only a modest difference in HDL cholesterol and may have been compromised by the placebo containing a low dose of nicotinic acid (50 mg) to mask the study treatment. We need to wait for the results of the HPS2-THRIVE study in 25,000 participants, which is sufficiently powered to test the value of adding nicotinic acid to statin therapy.19

Table 2. Raising high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: potential options
Table 2. Raising high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: potential options

Several emerging HDL therapies, including reconstituted HDL, apoA-I mimetics and cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) inhibitors may offer potential for increasing HDL cholesterol (table 2).

CETP in human plasma promotes transfer of cholesterol from HDL to LDL and triglyceride-rich lipoproteins such as VLDL and chylomicrons. Therefore, inhibition of CETP has the potential to shift the balance of plasma cholesterol in favour of the protective HDL fraction.20 Phase II trials with the CETP inhibitors currently in development have shown promising results.21-23 However, we need to wait for the results of ongoing major outcomes studies to evaluate whether these lipid changes translate to reduction in cardiovascular events. Additionally, we do not know whether HDL particle composition changes (and how achieved) will translate into functional change, for high HDL cholesterol per se might not augment cardiovascular protection.

Improving best practice: the way forward

These are exciting times in the development of new approaches aimed at targeting residual cardiovascular risk in statin-treated patients, and the results of clinical outcomes studies are awaited with interest.

For current practice, lifestyle intervention, statins and targeting low levels of HDL cholesterol and elevated triglycerides, which are characteristic of the metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, are key issues. Better care, including counselling about therapeutic lifestyle intervention, and improving patient adherence are also priorities to improve practice and clinical outcomes.

Key messages

  • Despite best treatment efforts, statin-treated patients often remain at a high risk of residual cardiovascular events
  • Therapeutic interventions that further reduce apo B-containing atherogenic lipoproteins or raise atheroprotective lipoproteins, as in HDL may offer potential
  • Results from ongoing outcomes studies are needed to evaluate the potential of nicotinic acid and the CETP inhibitors
  • For current practice, clinicians should not overlook the value of therapeutic lifestyle intervention, as well as improving adherence with available pharmacological options


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Disclaimer: Medinews Cardiology Limited advises healthcare professionals to consult up-to-date Prescribing Information and the full Summary of Product Characteristics available from the manufacturers before prescribing any product. Medinews Cardiology Limited cannot accept responsibility for any errors in prescribing which may occur.
Conflict of interest: Dr Dermot Neely has received sponsorship for travel to conferences and honoraria for advisory boards and lectures from Astra Zeneca, Merck, Pfizer, Roche Pharmaceuticals and Sanofi-Aventis; he has received research grants from Pfizer and Schering Plough. Professor Kausik K Ray has received honoraria for advisory boards and lectures from Abbott, Astra Zeneca, BMS, Kowa, Lilly, Merck, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Roche, Sankyo and Sanofi-Aventis. Professor John Reckless has served on advisory boards, had speaker engagements and received meeting travel support from pharmaceutical companies in the lipid and diabetes fields, but these do not relate to this supplement. He is a Trustee of HEART UK, the national Cholesterol Charity. He was a committee member of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) CG67 lipid modification guideline. Dr Jane Skinner was clinical advisor to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) for the post MI secondary prevention and chest pain guidelines. She has received travel bursaries from Roche and Sanofi Aventis. Dr Adie Viljoen has received honoraria for participation in advisory boards and lectures and is a clinical investigator in trials funded by Astra Zeneca, Eli Lilly, MannKind, MSD, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi-Aventis and Takeda.