A first: Drug lowers heart risks by curbing inflammation
For the first time, a drug has helped prevent heart attacks by curbing inflammation, a new and very different approach than lowering cholesterol, the focus for many years.
People on the drug also had surprisingly lower cancer death rates, especially from lung cancer. An anti-tumor effect is an exciting possibility, but it needs much more study because the heart experiment wasn’t intended to test that.
Doctors say the results on the drug, canakinumab (can-uh-KIN-yoo-mab), open a new frontier. Many heart attacks occur in people whose cholesterol is normal and whose main risk is chronic inflammation that can lead to clogged arteries.
“We suddenly know we can address the inflammation itself, the same way we learned almost 25 years ago that we could address cholesterol. It’s very exciting,” said the study’s leader, Dr. Paul Ridker of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
It’s hard to get big reductions in risk by adding a new drug like canakinumab if people already are taking optimal medicines, said Dr. Mark Creager, director of the Dartmouth-Hitchkock heart and vascular center and past president of the American Heart Association.
But even a small improvement makes a huge difference considering how common heart attacks are, he said. “That’s going to save a lot of people.”
The best part is having a new way to help patients, said the Cleveland Clinic’s heart chief, Dr. Steven Nissen, who has consulted for Novartis without fee.
“For the first time we have this new target — inflammation,” Nissen said. “It’s sort of the dawning of a new era. I really think it’s that big.”
How many other consumers has it harmed since it began in the early 70s?