Study objective: To compare the safety of salmeterol xinafoate or placebo added to usual asthma care.
Design: A 28-week, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, observational study.
Setting: Study subjects were seen once in the study physician’s office for screening and were provided all blinded study medication for the entire study period. Follow-up by telephone was scheduled every 4 weeks.
Participants: Subjects (> 12 years old) with asthma as judged by the study physician were eligible. Individuals with a history of long-acting β2-agonist use were excluded.
Interventions: Salmeterol, 42 μg bid via metered-dose inhaler (MDI), and placebo bid via MDI.
Measurements and results: Following an interim analysis in 26,355 subjects, the study was terminated due to findings in African Americans and difficulties in enrollment. The occurrence of the primary outcome, respiratory-related deaths, or life-threatening experiences was low and not significantly different for salmeterol vs placebo (50 vs 36; relative risk [RR] = 1.40; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.91 to 2.14). There was a small, significant increase in respiratory-related deaths (24 vs 11; RR, 2.16; 95% CI, 1.06 to 4.41) and asthma-related deaths (13 vs 3; RR, 4.37; 95% CI, 1.25 to 15.34), and in combined asthma-related deaths or life-threatening experiences (37 vs 22; RR, 1.71; 95% CI, 1.01 to 2.89) in subjects receiving salmeterol vs placebo. The imbalance occurred largely in the African-American subpopulation: respiratory-related deaths or life-threatening experiences (20 vs 5; RR, 4.10; 95% CI, 1.54 to 10.90) and combined asthma-related deaths or life-threatening experiences (19 vs 4; RR, 4.92; 95% CI, 1.68 to 14.45) in subjects receiving salmeterol vs placebo.
Conclusions: For the primary end point in the total population, there were no significant differences between treatments. There were small, but statistically significant increases in respiratory-related and asthma-related deaths and combined asthma-related deaths or life-threatening experiences in the total population receiving salmeterol. Subgroup analyses suggest the risk may be greater in African Americans compared with Caucasian subjects. Whether this risk is due to factors including but not limited to a physiologic treatment effect, genetic factors, or patient behaviors leading to poor outcomes remains unknown.