Circulation April 4, 2017 Issue

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Carolyn: Welcome to Circulation on the Run, your weekly podcast summary and backstage pass to The Journal and its editor's. I'm Dr. Carolyn Lam, associate editor from the National Heart Center and Duke National University of Singapore. Our Journal this week features important new data telling us that a common genetic variant risk score is associated with risk of drug induced QT prolongation and torsades de pointes.

First, let's give you your summary of this week's journal. The first paper provides both clinical and experimental data to show that the adipokine, retinal binding protein four promotes atherosclerosis. First author, Dr. Liu, corresponding author, Dr. Xia and colleagues from Sun Yat Sen University in Guangzhou, China first evaluated the association between serum retinal binding four levels and the incidents of adverse cardiovascular events in a community based prospective cohort and then examined the effects of retinal protein four gain or loss of function on macrophage foam cell formation and atherogenesis in an apple lipase protein E deficient mouse model. They found, in the clinical cohort study, that base line serum retinal binding protein four level was an independent predictor of incidents of adverse cardiovascular events after adjustment for traditional risk factors.

In the experimental study's, they showed that retinal binding protein four promoted macrophage derived foam cell formation through the activation of scavenger receptor CD36 mediated cholesterol uptake. In turn dependent on June and terminal kinase and signal transducer and activator of transcription one, as well as upstream regulation by the tracing kinase CSRC. These findings, therefore, support the use of retinal binding protein four as a novel biomarker for the prediction of cardiovascular risk. The data also provide insight into the mechanism of action of retinal binding protein four in the path of physiology of atherosclerosis.

The next paper is the first clinical trial, looking at remote ischemic pre conditioning prior to carotid artery stinting in patients with severe carotid artery stenosis. Remote ischemic pre conditioning is a protective, systemic strategy by which cycles of bilateral limb ischemia are applied briefly to confer protection from subsequent severe ischemia and distant organs. First author, Dr. Zhao, corresponding authors, Dr. Ji, and colleagues from Xuanwu Hospital, Capital Medical University in Beijing, China performed a proof of concept, single center, prospective, randomized control trial to assess whether remote ischemic preconditioning was safe and effective in attenuating ischemic injury related to carotid artery stinting in 189 patients with severe carotid artery stenosis. Results show that daily remote ischemic pre conditioning for two weeks, prior to carotid artery stenting, was feasible, safe, well tolerated, and may effectively attenuate secondary brain injury as evidence by a decreased incidence and reduced volumes of new ischemic legions on magnetic residence imaging performed within 48 hours post operation. The clinical implications are that if results are confirmed by future, larger studies, remote ischemic preconditioning may evolve into a nonpharmacological, neuro protective method for inhibiting carotid artery stenosis related cerebral ischemic events.

This potential for clinical translation in discussed in an accompanying editorial by Doctors Bell and Yellen, from University College, London.

The final paper discusses firefighting and the heart. What's the link? Well, cardiovascular events are the leading cause of death amongst firefighters and the risk is known to be substantially increased during fire suppression duties. In the current study, first author Dr. Hunter, corresponding author, Dr. Mills, and colleagues from University of Edinburgh in United Kingdom sought to understand this link better by assessing the effects of simulated fire suppression on measures of cardiovascular health in an open label, randomized cross over study of 19 healthy firefighters. These firefighters performed a standardized training exercise in a fire simulation facility or like duties for 20 minutes. Following each exposure, ex vivo thrombus formation, fibrinolysis, platelet activation and for armed blood flow in response to intra-arterial infusions of endothelium dependent and independent vasodilators were all measured. The authors found that exposure to extreme heat and physical exertion during fire suppression activated platelets, increased thrombus formation, impaired vascular function, and promoted myocardial ischemia and injury in healthy fire fighters. These finding provided pathogenic mechanisms to explain the association between fire suppression activity and acute myocardial infarction in fire fighters.

The implications of these findings for prevention are discussed in an accompanying editorial from Dr. Kales, of Harvard school of Public Health and Dr. Smith from Skidmore College and University of Illinois fire service institute.

Well, those were your summaries. Let's welcome our guests for our feature discussion.

Today's feature paper describes a pilot study that shows that a common genetic variant risk score, is associated with drug induced QT prolongation and torsades de pointes. This paper is so interesting to me because I found that the learning points, at least for me, really extended well beyond the trial itself. I'm so delighted to have with me the co corresponding authors, Dr. David Strauss from the US FDA, as well as Dr. Christopher Newton-Cheh from Massachusetts General Hospital. Welcome, gentlemen.

David: Thanks very much, glad to be here.

Christopher: Thank you, Carolyn.

Carolyn: So, I've always thought that common genetic variants identified via GWAS, for example, are individually very weak effects on medical traits. For example, systolic blood pressure or in this case, QT interval. But what I'm so impressed with this study is that you show, I think for the first time, that even these small effects can add up to clinically meaningful results that are testable or demonstrable in a trial. David, could you begin by telling us a little bit about this trial and what the primary results were.

David: In the study, we tested the hypothesis that a weighted combination of common genetic variants, contributing to the QT interval at base line, identified through prior GWAS studies, can predict individual response to multiple QT prolonging drugs. We performed a genetic analysis of 22 subjects and a secondary analysis of a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled cross over trial, that included three QT prolonging drugs, with 15 tie matched QT and plasma drug concentration measurements. This allowed us to carefully control for the inter individual differences in pharmacokinetics and just focus on the pharmacodynamics so the direct effect of the drug on the heart.

What we found was, there was a significant correlation between the weighted combination of common genetic variants, which we call the genetic QT score, and drug induced QT prolongation. More specifically, we found that the genetic QT score explained 30 percent of the variability in response to dofetilide, 23 percent in response to quinidine, and 27 in response to ranolazine.

We also investigated how response to one QT prolonging drug predicted the response to other QT prolonging drugs. There were significant correlations between all the drug/drug relationships with response to each drug explaining 24 to 29 percent of the variability in response to each of the other drugs. It's important to note that QT prolongation, by itself, is not harmful. The real concern is torsades de pointes, which can degenerate into ventricular fibrillation and cause sudden death. So, the test, irrelevant to the common genetic variants in predicting drug induced torsades, we then went on to examine a previously published, genome wide association study that included 215 patients with drug induced torsades, compared to 771 ancestry match controls and that prior study that was previously published had found that each individual common genetic variant did not reach genome wide significance, as you suggested, Carolyn. However, when we applied the weighted combination of common genetic variants, we found that the genetic QT risk score was associated with significantly increased risk of drug induced torsade, explaining 12 percent of the variation in risk.

Carolyn: So, my simplistic understanding was more or less there. That these genetic risks of these common variants kind of add up. I'm just curious ... Chris, do you think that this has implications for even other diseases? That's one question. And then secondly, I really appreciated your comment about using an intermediate trait, if you may, of QT interval versus looking at the disease itself of torsade de pointes. Could you give me comments on both these things?

Christopher: The study of intermediate traits, such as, quantitative traits like QT variability on the EKG are, I think very tractable for the study of genetic bases of underlying physiologic processes because we can study so many people. So the original genome wide association study that detected these individually weak genetic effects could only find them because we studied about 75,000 people who had had genome wide genome typing and QT intervals measured. It requires such large sample sizes to reach p values that are able to distinguish true positive associations from false positive associations, due to the multiple testing burden.

I think a challenge of what to do with these genetic effects once they've been reliably detected is that they do have weak effects and they influence intermediate traits. Nobody really cares whether their QT interval is three milliseconds longer, or three milliseconds shorter. What they care about is hard outcomes, or the likelihood that they'll have a toxic drug response. So, it was a natural follow on to that work to try to test these variants, and we knew that based on their weak effects individually on QT interval in the general population, that it was unlikely that they would individually explain a significant portion of either drug response or torsade. Which is why we aggregated the facts into the weighted score.

I think we tried to examine what we thought were the most proximal, clinically relevant outcomes. Specifically, drug response. QT drug response to drugs that are established to cause QT prolongation and arrhythmias. Whether the QT score will have meaningful or detectable impact on drugs that have much weaker effects on re polarization and risk of torsade, I think, would remain to be seen.

Carolyn: That's really remarkable.

David, how about your perspective of the implications of this? It's so unique that you're actually from the FDA so, why is this important to the FDA?

David: As Chris mentioned, the specific application we studied here, a drug induced QT prolongation and torsade have resulted in the withdrawal of several drugs from the market both in the US and worldwide. Many critical drugs remain on the market that are associated with QT prolongation and torsade…over 100 drugs, likely. What some people may not be familiar with is that at FDA we perform research to move new science into the drug review process and close the gap between scientific innovation and drug review. Like practicing clinicians, we seek to understand inter patient variabilities and we conduct research to better evaluate, benefit, and risk of medications. This is in line with the broader initiative ... the precision medicine initiative, which seeks to move away from the traditional “one size fits all” approach for medical therapy and instead, take into account specific characteristics of individual patients.

People are most familiar with this being applied in oncology and advances in pharmacogenomics have been more limited in other areas with the exception of the genetic bases of metabolism and pharmacokinetics where the traits are often controlled by one or a few genetic mechanisms, rather than the many mechanisms responsible for complex traits and diseases, as Chris discussed. As I mentioned earlier, what was relatively unique about this study is that we were able to control for the difference in pharmacokinetics and investigate the inter individual differences in the direct effect of drugs on the heart, the pharmacodynamics. We think it's very exciting that a combination of common genetic variants and aggregate can explain a significant portion of the inter individual variability and, as Chris mentioned, this is also important because the incidence of torsade is quite low. Only a small number of patients will develop drug induced torsade. It's possible that in the future analysis of a large number of common genetic variants that can be identified through genome wide association studies as in this case, may help to better define the personalized benefit risk profiles for individual patients.

Carolyn: You've really articulated that remarkably. That's exactly the excitement I think the entire editorial team shared when we read your paper. Thank you so much for it. Maybe just one last question thrown out to both of you, what's the next step? What's in the future.

Christopher: I think one next step, based on this proof of principle study, will be to try to test the impact of these genetic risk scores in real world clinical settings where individual patients with the diversity of different comorbidities and different drug exposures are also receiving QT prolonging drugs. Because that will have the biggest relevance for our patients who faced increased risk of drug toxicity.

David: The issue of cardiac safety of drugs is something that is very important to us at the FDA and we have some parallel initiatives that, in collaboration with other global drugs ... regulatory agencies and industry and academic collaborators ... we are working to develop new cardiac safety evaluation paradigms for new drugs, or existing drugs, that could even be applied in the preclinical setting and really focus on the mechanistic base, pro arrhythmic risk. So, we should have more exciting work coming forward in the near future for better prediction and individualized prediction of benefit and risk of medication.

Carolyn: Thank you, listeners, for joining us. You've been listening to Circulation on the Run. Join us next week.

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