New drug produces steep drop in bad cholesterol

Last Updated: Thursday, November 18, 2010 - 00:00

Chicago: An experimental drug boosted good cholesterol so high and dropped bad cholesterol so low in a study that doctors were stunned and voiced renewed hopes for an entirely new way of preventing heart attacks and strokes.

"We are the most excited we have been in decades," said Dr Christopher Cannon of Brigham and Women`s Hospital in Boston, who led the study of the novel drug for Merck & Co. "This could really be the next big thing."

The drug, anacetrapib (an-uh-SEHT`-ruh-pihb), will not be on the market anytime soon. It needs more testing to see if its dramatic effects on cholesterol will translate into fewer heart attacks, strokes and deaths. Merck announced a 30,000-patient study to answer that question, and it will take several years.

But the sheer magnitude of the new medicine`s effects so far excited lots of doctors at an American Heart Association conference in Chicago, where results were presented on Wednesday.

It was one of two studies that caused unusual optimism and buzz at the heart meeting. The other tested a new procedure to lower blood pressure in patients whose pills failed them.

The new method uses a tube through a blood vessel to zap nerves near the kidneys, which fuel high blood pressure. Its success offers hope for a possible permanent fix for people with very high blood pressure despite taking fistfuls of pills each day. Only about a third of the millions of people worldwide with high blood pressure are able to control it well with pills.

The treatment, using a device made by California-based Ardian Inc., is just now becoming available in Europe and will be tested in the United States next year.

The cholesterol study took an equally novel approach.

For years, doctors have focused on lowering LDL (Low-density lipoprotein), or bad cholesterol, to cut heart risks. Statin medicines, sold as Lipitor and Zocor do this, and generic versions cost less than a dollar a day. But many statin users still suffer heart attacks, so doctors have been trying to get LDL to very low levels and to boost HDL (High-density lipoprotein), or good cholesterol.

Anacetrapib would be the first drug of its kind. It helps keep fat particles attached to HDL, which carries them in the bloodstream to the liver to be disposed of.

Results of the study also were published online by the New England Journal of Medicine. Some study leaders have consulted for Merck and makers of other heart drugs.

Bureau Report



First Published: Thursday, November 18, 2010 - 00:00

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