Conference Coverage

SGLT2 inhibitors: No benefit or harm in hospitalized COVID-19



A new meta-analysis has shown that SGLT2 inhibitors do not lead to lower 28-day all-cause mortality, compared with usual care or placebo, in patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

However, no major safety issues were identified with the use of SGLT2 inhibitors in these acutely ill patients, the researchers report.

“While these findings do not support the use of SGLT2-inhibitors as standard of care for patients hospitalized with COVID-19, I think the most important take home message here is that the use of these medications appears to be safe even in really acutely ill hospitalized patients,” lead investigator of the meta-analysis, Mikhail Kosiborod, MD, Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, Kansas City, Mo., concluded.

He said this was important because the list of indications for SGLT2 inhibitors is rapidly growing.

“These medications are being used in more and more patients. And we know that when we discontinue medications in the hospital they frequently don’t get restarted, which can lead to real risks if SGLT2 inhibitors are stopped in patients with heart failure, chronic kidney disease, or diabetes. So, the bottom line is that there is no compelling reason to stop these medications in the hospital,” he added.

The new meta-analysis was presented at the recent annual congress of the European Society of Cardiology, held in Amsterdam.

Discussant of the presentation at the ESC Hotline session, Muthiah Vaduganathan, MD, MPH, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, agreed with Dr. Kosiborod’s interpretation.

“Until today we have had very limited information on the safety of SGLT2-inhibitors in acute illness, as the pivotal trials which established the use of these drugs in diabetes and chronic kidney disease largely excluded patients who were hospitalized,” Dr. Vaduganathan said.

“While the overall results of this meta-analysis are neutral and SGLT2 inhibitors will not be added as drugs to be used in the primary care of patients with COVID-19, it certainly sends a strong message of safety in acutely ill patients,” he added.

Dr. Vaduganathan explained that from the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was great interest in repurposing established therapies for alternative indications for their use in the management of COVID-19.

“Conditions that strongly predispose to adverse COVID outcomes strongly overlap with established indications for SGLT2-inhibitors. So many wondered whether these drugs may be an ideal treatment candidate for the management of COVID-19. However, there have been many safety concerns about the use of SGLT2-inhibitors in this acute setting, with worries that they may induce hemodynamic changes such an excessive lowering of blood pressure, or metabolic changes such as ketoacidosis in acutely ill patients,” he noted.

The initial DARE-19 study investigating SGLT2-inhibitors in COVID-19, with 1,250 participants, found a 20% reduction in the primary outcome of organ dysfunction or death, but this did not reach statistical significance, and no safety issues were seen. This “intriguing” result led to two further larger trials – the ACTIV-4a and RECOVERY trials, Dr. Vaduganathan reported.

“Those early signals of benefit seen in DARE-19 were largely not substantiated in the ACTIV-4A and RECOVERY trials, or in this new meta-analysis, and now we have this much larger body of evidence and more stable estimates about the efficacy of these drugs in acutely ill COVID-19 patients,” he said.

“But the story that we will all take forward is one of safety. This set of trials was arguably conducted in some of the sickest patients we’ve seen who have been exposed to SGLT2-inhibitors, and they strongly affirm that these agents can be safely continued in the setting of acute illness, with very low rates of ketoacidosis and kidney injury, and there was no prolongation of hospital stay,” he commented.

In his presentation, Dr. Kosiborod explained that treatments targeting COVID-19 pathobiology such as dysregulated immune responses, endothelial damage, microvascular thrombosis, and inflammation have been shown to improve the key outcomes in this patient group.

SGLT2 inhibitors, which modulate similar pathobiology, provide cardiovascular protection and prevent the progression of kidney disease in patients at risk for these events, including those with type 2 diabetes, heart failure, and kidney disease, and may also lead to organ protection in a setting of acute illness such as COVID-19, he noted. However, the role of SGLT2 inhibitors in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 remains uncertain.

To address the need for more definitive efficacy data, the World Health Organization Rapid Evidence Appraisal for COVID-19 Therapies (REACT) Working Group conducted a prospective meta-analysis using data from the three randomized controlled trials, DARE-19, RECOVERY, and ACTIV-4a, evaluating SGLT2 inhibitors in patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

Overall, these trials randomized 6,096 participants: 3,025 to SGLT2 inhibitors and 3,071 to usual care or placebo. The average age of participants ranged between 62 and 73 years across the trials, 39% were women, and 25% had type 2 diabetes.

By 28 days after randomization, all-cause mortality, the primary endpoint, had occurred in 11.6% of the SGLT2-inhibitor patients, compared with 12.4% of those randomized to usual care or placebo, giving an odds ratio of 0.93 (95% confidence interval, 0.79-1.08; P = .33) for SGLT2 inhibitors, with consistency across trials.

Data on in-hospital and 90-day all-cause mortality were only available for two out of three trials (DARE-19 and ACTIV-4a), but the results were similar to the primary endpoint showing nonsignificant trends toward a possible benefit in the SGLT2-inhibitor group.

The results were also similar for the secondary outcomes of progression to acute kidney injury or requirement for dialysis or death, and progression to invasive mechanical ventilation, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or death, both assessed at 28 days.

The primary safety outcome of ketoacidosis by 28 days was observed in seven and two patients allocated to SGLT2 inhibitors and usual care or placebo, respectively, and overall, the incidence of reported serious adverse events was balanced between treatment groups.

The RECOVERY trial was supported by grants to the University of Oxford from UK Research and Innovation, the National Institute for Health and Care Research, and Wellcome. The ACTIV-4a platform was sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. DARE-19 was an investigator-initiated collaborative trial supported by AstraZeneca. Dr. Kosiborod reported numerous conflicts of interest.

A version of this article first appeared on

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