IRIS: Pioglitazone lowers risk for CV events after ischemic stroke, TIA – Healio

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In insulin-resistant patients who had a recent ischemic stroke or transient ischemic attack, treatment with the diabetes drug pioglitazone was associated with lower risk for stroke or MI compared with placebo, according to data reported at the International Stroke Conference.

“For the first time, a therapy directed at insulin resistance has been shown to prevent cardiac and cerebrovascular events for these patients,” Walter N. Kernan, MD, professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine, said during a press conference.

Researchers for the double blind IRIS trial randomly assigned 3,876 patients with a history of recent ischemic stroke or TIA and insulin resistance (score > 3 on the homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance [HOMA-IR] index) to receive the thiazolidinedione pioglitazone (Actos, Takeda) or matching placebo. Insulin resistance affects the majority of non-diabetic patients with ischemic stroke or TIA, according to Kernan.

Patients were enrolled at 179 centers in seven countries, including the United States. Those with diabetes, HF or bladder cancer were excluded from the trial. The cohort had a mean age of 63 years, 66% were men, 11% were black, mean BMI was 30 kg/m2 and mean NIH Stroke Scale score was 1.1.

Patients received an initial dose of 15 mg of pioglitazone daily or placebo, titrated to 45 mg daily if there were no drug-related adverse events such as new or worsening edema, shortness of breath, myalgia or excessive weight gain.

The primary outcome was time to first stroke or MI. According to results presented at ISC 2016, at 4.8 years of follow-up, 175 of 1,939 patients (9%) assigned pioglitazone developed first stroke or MI compared with 228 of 1,937 patients (11.8%) assigned placebo (HR = 0.76; 95% CI, 0.62-0.93; P = .007).

Overall, 3.8% of patients in the pioglitazone group and 7.7% in the placebo group developed diabetes (HR = 0.48; 95% CI, 0.33-0.69; P < .001), 5% vs. 6.6% developed ACS (HR = 0.75; 95% CI, 0.52-1.07; P = .11), 6.5% vs. 8% developed stroke (HR = 0.82; 95% CI, 0.61-1.1; P = .19) and 10.6% vs. 12.9% developed a composite of stroke, MI or serious HF (HR = 0.82; 95% CI, 0.65-1.05; P = .11). The researchers reported no significant difference in all-cause mortality during follow-up (pioglitazone, 7%; placebo, 7.5%; HR = 0.93; 95% CI, 0.73-1.17; P = .52).

In other results, pioglitazone was linked with a greater frequency of weight gain greater than 4.5 kg compared with placebo (52.2% vs. 33.7%; P < .001). Rates of edema (35.6% vs. 24.9%; P < .001) and bone fracture requiring surgery or hospitalization (5.1% vs. 3.2%; P = .003) were also more common in the pioglitazone group. Other serious adverse events included HF and incident cancer were similar between the treatment groups.

“Among insulin-resistant, non-diabetic patients with ischemic stroke or TIA, pioglitazone prevented stroke or MI, with an absolute risk reduction of 2.9% and relative risk reduction of 24%, and diabetes, with an absolute risk reduction of 3.9% and a relative risk reduction of 52%,” Kernan said.

Important next steps include further research to optimize the use of pioglitazone, including new strategies to minimize weight gain and assure bone health, and to identify other therapies that work on the same biological pathways, he said.

In a related editorial published in The New England Journal of Medicine, Clay F. Semenkovich, MD, from the division of endocrinology, metabolism and lipid research at Washington University in St. Louis, noted that “while the results of the IRIS trial might tempt clinicians to rush to prescribe pioglitazone,” he urged caution because the positive outcomes may have been related to the design of the trial. “Patients in the IRIS trial met strict criteria (including exclusion for HF) and were enrolled on the basis of standardized insulin assays. Patients had little neurologic impairments and the response to pioglitazone may be different among those with substantial deficits,” he wrote.

However, Semenkovich considers pioglitazone a “potentially important therapy for the secondary prevention of vascular events in appropriately selected patients with cerebrovascular disease.” The results of this trial “should stimulate the search for precision-medicine approaches to vascular disease,” he wrote. – by Tracey Romero


Kernan W. LB 1. Presented at: International Stroke Conference; Feb. 16-19, 2016; Los Angeles.

Kernan WN, et al. New Engl J Med. 2016;doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1506930.

Semenkovich C. New Engl J Med. 2016;doi:10.1056/NEJMe1600962.

isclosures: The trial was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Kernan reports receiving no relevant financial disclosures. Semenkovich reports receiving grant support and personal fees from Merck, and personal fees from Ono pharmaceutical (Japan) and Sanofi/Regeneron outside the submitted work. In addition, he reports patents related to the use of chloroquine to treat metabolic syndrome and the use of an endogenous ligand for PPAR alpha to treat liver disorders.

IRIS: Pioglitazone lowers risk for CV events after ischemic stroke, TIA – Healio