A landmark drug study has opened up a potent way to lower the risk of heart attacks — beyond the now standard advice of reducing cholesterol — promising new avenues of treatment of Americans' number one killer.
The findings, more than two decades after the discovery of powerful cholesterol-lowering drugs, called statins, taken by tens of millions, were announced Sunday at a medical conference in Barcelona and published in two leading medical journals.
Physicians not involved in the study described the results as a scientific triumph, calling the implications for drug treatment of heart disease "huge."
The findings provide validation of an idea that has been tantalizing cardiologists for years: that reducing inflammation could be a way to treat artery-clogging heart disease.
"It's a new paradigm: a new opportunity to further reduce death and disability," said Mark Creager, a past president of the American Heart Association, who was not involved in the study. "We've made such tremendous inroads in treating heart disease over the last couple of decades, and it's hard to imagine we could confer additional benefits, but here you go."
But the implications and timing of any benefit for patients remain to be seen. The drug company that sponsored the trial, Novartis, plans to meet with regulators this fall and file for approval by the end of the year. The drug, an injection given once every three months, would then be reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration.
A key question is which patients will benefit; the study showed its effect — a 15 percent drop in a combined measure of heart attacks, stroke and cardiovascular death — in a select, high-risk population of people who had suffered a previous heart attack and had high levels of a marker of inflammation in their blood. But a subset of patients appeared to get greater benefit from the drug, called canakinumab.