Without evidence of benefit, an intervention should not be presumed to be beneficial or safe.

- Rogue Medic

$16M on EMS Stroke Trial? Dr. Rick Bukata Wants His Money Back!


 

FAST-MAG[1] actually has good methodology, so why is Dr. Rick Bukata so upset? Is this just USC vs. UCLA off the field/court?

Should the hypothesis being tested have received the Queen for a Decade treatment?

He wants his money back? Roughly 160 million tax payers in the US, so $0.10 per tax payer, but he makes more than the average schlub, so maybe as much as 50 cents for him. He can’t even buy enough caffeine to raise his blood pressure with that.
 

In a commentary regarding the IMAGES trial by Larry Goldstein of the Duke Center for Cerebrovascular Disease in the same issue of the Lancet in which the study was published, he noted that of more than 40 clinical trials of “neuroprotectants” involving over 11,000 patients, none has shown any evidence of benefit. Ten years later, the same is true.[2]

 

But look at the animal studies!

But look at the time being saved!

The authors actually like to repeat the term Golden Hour – as if that is new or valid.
 

So, if you are still a believer in the potential of magnesium, why not try and give magnesium in a pilot clinical study involving stroke patients in the ED? It would have been a relatively simple study to do. It could have been performed in selected EDs throughout the country and the answer would have been established in a fraction of eight years and at a very small fraction of $16 million.

Instead, the Fast-Mag investigators decide that giving magnesium in the field (probably about 10-20 minutes faster than could be given in the ED) would be a reasonable study.[2]

 

Gosh, when he brings reason into the argument, it just seems that the other side has none.

What could the money have been spent on?

Epinephrine vs. placebo in cardiac arrest? The number of lives affected is large and we are currently treating based on philosophy, not science.

IV (IntraVenous) bolus NTG (NiTroGlycerin – GTN GlycerylTriNitrate in Commonwealth countries) vs. SL (SubLingual) NTG for acute CHF (Congestive Heart Failure)? This affects even more patients than cardiac arrest and there is good evidence that IV bolus NTG dramatically improves outcomes, while SL NTG is not based on evidence.

Excited delirium treatment with various IM (IntraMuscular) medications to see what is safest and most effective and at what dose. A large trial would be necessary.

With no good reason to be optimistic about outcomes, why take this multimillion dollar long shot?

Maybe it has to do with tPA (tissue Plasminogen Activator) and the failure to get emergency physicians to accept the poor research on tPA – tPA showed harm, or no benefit, in 9 out of 11 studies.[3]

Ironically, if those studies used methodology similar to this study, that could be showed harm, or no benefit, in 11 out of 11 studies.

Dr. Jeffrey L. Saver, one of the authors, has a presentation on FAST-MAG that spends a lot of time on tPA, even prehospital tPA.

What does Dr. Sarver consider to be positive about FAST-MAG? Here are some of his slides.[4]
 


 

FAST-MAG means more tPA use.
 


 

FAST-MAG means doing a lot of things that have not been done before and expecting the outcome to be good.

This is the kind of person who starts turning all of the dials on a ventilator and then looks at the patient to see what the result is.

A reasonable approach to research is to limit variables, not brag about how much prudence has been abandoned.
 


 

FAST-MAG means time will be saved, but . . . .
 

Walter Koroshetz, MD, neurologist and deputy director of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, sponsor of the FAST-MAG study, says that lessons can be learned from the trial.[5]

 

“The NIH have a new network to do more prehospital trials, but we need phase 2 studies first that demonstrate some biological effect before going into a large costly phase 3 trials.”[5]

 

This is a $16 million bet that time is the only factor that matters.

I hope these doctors do not drive the way they gamble.

What were the results?

The results were the same as all of the previous studies of magnesium – no improvement.

There is no Magnesium Golden Hour.
 

And, please, no – don’t even consider the idea of giving tPA in the field.[2]

 

Well, . . . .
 

Dr. Saver explained that tPA cannot be given at present in a prehospital setting because hemorrhagic stroke has to be ruled out with computed tomography (CT). The use of ambulances with a CT scanner on board has been studied in Germany and is now starting to be tested in the United States.[5]

 

Be very afraid.

On the other hand, the authors did not rush this treatment into EMS protocols, as we recently have in EMS in so many places with therapeutic hypothermia, based entirely on research done in the ED (Emergency Department). It works in the ED, but not in the ambulance. 😳

FAST-MAG was approved in 1999, several years after the EMS nifedipine (Procardia) for hypertensive crisis crisis. There was no study in the EMS setting of a treatment for the EMS setting. This involved treatment of the surrogate endpoint of blood pressure numbers, which makes for an easy win, such as a systolic drop of 250 -> 90 in ten minutes. 😳

We need a balance between rushing to add the new cool treatment (and the predictable removal of the treatment decades later) and the inappropriate rush to a large scale trial of something that has repeatedly failed smaller studies.
 

Go read Dr. Bukata’s full article.

Footnotes:

[1] Methodology of the Field Administration of Stroke Therapy – Magnesium (FAST-MAG) phase 3 trial: Part 2 – prehospital study methods.
Saver JL, Starkman S, Eckstein M, Stratton S, Pratt F, Hamilton S, Conwit R, Liebeskind DS, Sung G, Sanossian N; FAST-MAG Investigators and Coordinators.
Int J Stroke. 2014 Feb;9(2):220-5. doi: 10.1111/ijs.12242.
PMID: 24444117 [PubMed – in process]

Methodology of the Field Administration of Stroke Therapy – Magnesium (FAST-MAG) phase 3 trial: Part 1 – rationale and general methods.
Saver JL, Starkman S, Eckstein M, Stratton S, Pratt F, Hamilton S, Conwit R, Liebeskind DS, Sung G, Sanossian N; FAST-MAG Investigators and Coordinators.
Int J Stroke. 2014 Feb;9(2):215-9. doi: 10.1111/ijs.12243. Epub 2014 Jan 13.
PMID: 24444116 [PubMed – in process]

[2] $16M on EMS Stroke Trial? I Want My Money Back!
by Rick Bukata, MD
March 24, 2014
Emergency Physicians monthly
Article

[3] The Guideline, The Science, and The Gap
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Dr. David Newman
Smart EM
Article

[4] Treat Stroke in the Field:
Lessons from the NIH FAST-MAG Trial

Jeffrey L. Saver, MD, Professor of Neurology
UCLA Stroke Center
2012
Presentation Slides in PDF Downoad format.

[5] FAST-MAG: No Benefit of Prehospital Magnesium in Stroke
Sue Hughes
February 14, 2014
Medscape
Article

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