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How should subgroup analyses affect clinical practice? Insights from the Metoprolol Succinate Controlled-Release/Extended-Release Randomized Intervention Trial in Heart Failure (MERIT-HF).

Author(s): Wikstrand J, Wedel H, Ghali J, Deedwania P, Fagerberg B, Goldstein S, Gottlieb S, Hjalmarson A, Kjekshus J, Waagstein F

Affiliation(s): Wallenberg Laboratory for Cardiovascular Research, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Goteborg, Sweden. john.wikstrand@wlab.gu.se

Publication date & source: 2003-09, Card Electrophysiol Rev., 7(3):264-75.

CONTEXT: The Metoprolol CR/XL Randomized Intervention Trial in Chronic Heart Failure (MERIT-HF), the Cardiac Insufficiency Bisoprolol Study II (CIBIS-II), and the Carvedilol Prospective Randomized Cumulative Survival Study (COPERNICUS) have all demonstrated highly significant positive effects on total mortality as well as total mortality plus all-cause hospitalization in patients with heart failure. While none of these trials are large enough to provide definitive results in any particular subgroup, it is of interest for physicians to examine the consistency of results as regards efficacy and safety for various subgroups or risk groups. OBJECTIVE: To summarize results from both predefined as well as post-hoc subgroup analyses performed in the MERIT-HF trial, and to provide guidance as to whether any subgroup is at increased risk, despite an overall strongly positive effect, and to discuss the difficulties and limitations in conducting such subgroup analyses. For some subgroups we performed metaanalyses with data from the CIBIS II and COPERNICUS trials in order to obtain more robust data on mortality in subgroups with a small number of deaths (e.g. for women). SETTING: MERIT-HF was run in 14 countries, and randomized a total of 3,991 patients with symptomatic systolic heart failure (NYHA class II to IV with ejection fraction < or =0.40). Treatment was initiated with a very low dose with careful titration to a maximum target dose of 200 mg metoprolol succinate controlled release/extended release (CR/XL), or highest tolerated dose. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Total mortality (first primary endpoint), total mortality plus all-cause hospitalization (second primary endpoint), and total mortality plus hospitalization for heart failure (first secondary endpoint) analyzed on a time to first event basis. RESULTS: Overall, MERIT-HF demonstrated a 34% reduction in total mortality ( p = 0.00009 nominal) and a 19% reduction for mortality plus all-cause hospitalization ( p = 0.00012). The first secondary endpoint of mortality plus hospitalization for heart failure was reduced by 31% ( p = 0.0000008). The results were remarkably consistent for both primary outcomes and the first secondary outcome across all predefined subgroups as well as nearly all post-hoc subgroups. Metoprolol CR/XL has been very well tolerated, overall as well as in all subgroups analyzed. Overall 87% of the patients reached a dose of 100 mg or more of metoprolol CR/XL once daily, and 64% reached the target dose of 200 mg once daily. CONCLUSION: Our results show that when carefully titrated, metoprolol CR/XL can safely be instituted for the overwhelming majority of outpatients with clinically stable systolic heart failure, with minimal side effects or deterioration. The time has come to overcome the barriers that physicians perceive to beta-blocker treatment, and to provide it to the large number of patients with heart failure in need of this therapy, including also high risk patients like elderly patients, patients with severe heart failure, and patients with diabetes. Because of the increased risk, these are the patients in whom treatment will have the greatest impact as shown by number of lives saved and number of hospitalizations avoided. The target dose should be strived for in all patients who tolerate this dose. We should expect some variation of the treatment effect around the overall estimate as we examine a large number of subgroups due to small sample size in subgroups and due to chance. However, we believe that the best estimate of treatment effect for any particular subgroup should be the overall effect observed in the trial.

Page last updated: 2006-01-31

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