Coronary Artery Calcium to Improve the Efficiency of Randomized Controlled Trials in Primary Cardiovascular Prevention

Miguel Cainzos-Achirica, Marcio Sommer Bittencourt, Albert D. Osei, Waqas Haque, Deepak L. Bhatt, Roger S. Blumenthal, Ron Blankstein, Kausik K. Ray, Michael J. Blaha, Khurram Nasir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Objectives: This study sought to assess the value, in terms of sample size and cost, of using the coronary artery calcium (CAC) score to enrich the study population of primary prevention randomized controlled trials (RCTs) with participants at high absolute risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) events. Background: The feasibility of RCTs assessing the efficacy of novel add-on therapies for primary prevention among high-risk individuals treated with statins may be limited by sample size and cost. Methods: We evaluated 3,075 statin-naive participants from the MESA (Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis) with estimated 10-year ASCVD risk of ≥7.5%. CAC of >100, CAC of >400, high sensitivity C-reactive protein levels of >2 and >3 mg/l, ankle-brachial index of <0.9, and triglyceride levels of >175 mg/dl were each evaluated as enrichment criteria on top of estimated ASCVD risk of ≥7.5%, ≥10%, ≥15% and ≥20%. For each criterion, using the observed 5-year incidence of CVD, we projected the incidence of CVD assuming a 28% relative risk reduction with high-intensity statin therapy and after addition of novel therapy with additive relative risk reductions of 15% and 25%. Sample size and cost of a hypothetical primary prevention 5-year RCT of a novel therapy on top of statins versus statins alone were then computed by using the projected incidences. Yearly costs per included participant of $6,000 to $9,000 and of $500/$600 per screened nonparticipant were assumed. Results: CAC of >400, present in 15% to 23% participants, consistently identified the subgroups with highest 5-year incident events and outperformed the other features yielding the smallest projected sample size, ranging 33% to 58% lower than using risk estimations alone for participant selection. CAC of >400 also yielded the lowest projected RCT costs, at least $40 million lower than using risk estimations alone. CAC of >100 showed the second-best performance in most scenarios. Conclusions: High CAC scores used as study entry criteria can improve the efficiency and feasibility of primary prevention RCTs evaluating the incremental efficacy of novel add-on therapies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1005-1016
Number of pages12
JournalJACC: Cardiovascular Imaging
Issue number5
Early online dateNov 18 2020
StateE-pub ahead of print - Nov 18 2020


  • cardiovascular disease
  • coronary artery calcium
  • cost
  • prevention
  • randomized controlled trials

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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