Is the tide turning on the ‘grubby’ affair of EXCEL and the European guidelines?


Surgeons withdraw support

After the BBC report last year that the universal definition of MI data had been collected but not published in the 3-year follow-up manuscript, and showed more MI in the PCI group than the protocol definition, the EACTS withdrew its support for the guidelines. The ESC continued to uphold the guidelines «until there is robust scientific evidence (as opposed to allegations) indicating we should do otherwise,” said Ms. Casadei.

A spokesperson for NEJM said the journal stood by the EXCEL papers because “there is no credible harm to patients from the publication of the paper and accurate reporting of trial results.” NEJM has since conducted a review and published a series of letters in response. The letters have reinvigorated rather than appeased the dissenters, as reported by Medscape.

A number of cardiologists and researchers started a petition on change.org to revise the EACTS/ESC left main CAD guidelines, and surgical societies across the globe have written to the editor of NEJM asking him to retract or amend the EXCEL papers.

This has not happened. The journal’s editor maintains that the letters containing the analyses are “sufficient information” to allow readers and guideline authors to “evaluate the trial findings.”

Dr. Taggart was dismissive of that response. “There is still no recognition or acknowledgment that failure to publish these data in 2016 ‘misled’ the guideline writers for the ESC/EACTS guidelines, and there is still no formal correction of the 2016 and 2019 NEJM manuscripts.”

Over a year after the BBC received the leaked data, the EXCEL investigators published an analysis of the primary outcome using the universal definition of MI data in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

It shows 141 events in the PCI arm, compared with 102 in the CABG arm. The investigators acknowledge that the rates of procedural MI differ depending on the definition used. According to their analysis, the protocol definition was predictive of mortality after both treatments, whereas the universal definition of procedural MI was predictive of mortality only after CABG. Not everyone agrees with this interpretation, and an accompanying editorial questioned these conclusions.

For Dr. Wallentin, it’s a relief that these data are in the public domain so that their interpretation and clinical consequences can be “openly discussed.” He hoped that the whole experience will result in something constructive and useful for the future.

As for the guidelines, the tide may be turning.

In a joint statement with EACTS on Oct. 6, 2020, the ESC agreed to review its guidelines for left main disease in the light of emerging, longer-term outcome data from the trials of CABG versus PCI.

Dr. Taggart has no regrets about speaking out despite this being “an exceedingly painful and bruising experience.”

The saga, he said, “reflects very badly on our specialty, the investigators, industry, and the world’s ‘leading’ medical journal.”

This article first appeared on Medscape.com.


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