Next big thing? Big cholesterol drop with new drug--lead

The drug, anacetrapib, won`t be on the market anytime soon.

Chicago: An experimental Merck drug safely boosted good cholesterol to record highs while dropping bad cholesterol to unprecedented lows in a study that stunned researchers and renewed hopes for an entirely new way of lowering heart risks.

"We are the most excited we have been in decades" about a novel drug, said the study`s leader, Dr Christopher Cannon, of Brigham and Women`s Hospital in Boston. "This could really be the next big thing."

The drug, anacetrapib, won`t 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 & Co announced a 30,000-patient study to answer that question and it will take several years.

But the sheer magnitude of its effects so far caused big excitement at an American Heart Association conference in Chicago, where results were presented today.

"The data look spectacular, beyond what anybody would have expected," said Dr Robert Eckel, a University of Colorado cardiologist and past president of the heart association.

"It`s like a rocket to Jupiter versus one to the moon. I can think of many of my patients who could use the drug right now."

Merck`s Dr Luciano Rossetti agreed. "We are trying not to be too giddy. The potential benefit is enormous," said Rossetti, senior vice president of global scientific strategy at the company, based in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey.

For years, doctors have focused on lowering LDL, or bad cholesterol, to cut heart risks. Statin medicines, sold as Lipitor, Zocor and in generic form, do this. But many statin users still suffer heart attacks, so doctors have been trying to get LDL to very low levels and to boost HDL, or good cholesterol.

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