A new innovative drug, called evolocumab, has been found to be more effective than the often-prescribed statins in cutting down the levels of bad cholesterol and lowering the risk of heart attacks and strokes. The positive results of the international trial means the drug could soon be used by millions of people.
Around 15 million people die each year from heart attacks or stroke.Bad cholesterol is the villain in the heart world – it leads to blood vessels furring up, becoming easy to block which fatally starves the heart or brain of oxygen.It is why millions of people take drugs called statins to reduce the amount of bad cholesterol.
The new drug – evolocumab – changes the way the liver works to also cut bad cholesterol.
Prof. Peter Sever, from Imperial College London in the UK, said evolocumab is much more effective than statins. He organized the bit of the trial taking place in the UK with funding from the drug company Amgen.
Sever said that the end result of the trials showed cholesterol going down to levels that have never been seen in the practice of medicine before.The patients in the trial were already taking statins and yet their risk was cut further by the new therapy.
“They would have another 20% reduction in risk and that is a big effect. It is probably the most important trial result of a cholesterol lowering drug in over 20 years,” he added.
The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine and also reported at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology.
The study showed that one heart attack or stroke was prevented for every 74 patients taking the drug in the two-year trial.
But it is still too soon to know if the drug is saving lives.
Evolocumab is an antibody just like the weapons used by the immune system to fight infection.However, it has been designed to target a protein in the liver with the name PCSK9. It ultimately makes the organ better at whipping bad cholesterol out of the blood and breaking it down.
Other trials have shown such antibodies have cut bad cholesterol levels by 60% and Amgen is not the only company looking at this approach.
The antibody is given by injection into the skin every two to four weeks.
However, Sever said the drug will probably not replace statins, as there are a lot of people with really quite high cholesterol levels and more than one drug is probably needed to get their levels down.
The cost of the drug varies. However, in the UK where it is already being given to people who do not respond to statins, it is thought to cost the NHS about £2,000 per year per patient.