Drug cuts cholesterol to level of a baby

A powerful new drug slashes “bad” cholesterol significantly, a study has found.

Alirocumab could be the most important drug to tackle bad cholesterol since statins were introduced.

It is being hailed as the latest weapon against heart attacks and stroke after a study found it all but eliminated dangerous blood fats in more than a third of people taking statins.

In people unable to take them, Alirocumab halved LDL, or bad cholesterol, reducing the risk of potentially fatal conditions.

A global study of more than 2,000 patients showed that more than a third of those given the drug saw their level of fats fall to a baby’s. “Alirocumab when used alongside a statin, will dramatically lower cholesterol,” said lead researcher Professor Kausik Ray.

“Around 40 per cent of people who took it saw their levels reduce to that of a newborn.”

The medication is dubbed the Pac-Man drug because, like in the video game, it “gobbles up” a protein and allows the body to get rid of bad cholesterol more effectively, Prof Ray said. It could eventually be taken as a self-administered injection.

A total of 2,338 patients who had suffered a heart attack, stroke or who were at high risk of raised cholesterol took part in the trial. Of those, 788 were given a placebo and 1,550 Alirocumab and a statin. Of the 1,550, 562 saw their level of bad cholesterol fall to less than a baby’s level within a year.

Prof Ray, of St George’s Hospital, south London, said: “It is the biggest reduction we’ve had since statins were first introduced.

“It’s really exciting to have a treatment that can lower LDL cholesterol in these high-risk groups. For these people that can’t lower their cholesterol but are at very high-risk, we’ve had really weak treatments and thought, what can we do?

“They’ve had a heart attack, a bypass, or they can’t tolerate this or that, and their cholesterol is still bad despite everything. So in these selected individuals we are going to get a therapeutic choice.”

Statins can reduce LDL cholesterol by up to 50 per cent and this drug can reduce it by a further 50 per cent. The drug was injected bi-monthly by participants during the trial.

Prof Ray said: “It is likely to reduce your risk of heart disease as it will lower LDL cholesterol, however, the risk isn’t going to be abolished. People are not going to be immortal.

New rules to boost statin use

Millions more patients are set to be prescribed statins.

From early next year, everyone aged between 40 and 75 will be advised to consider taking the cholesterol-busting drug if they have a 10 per cent chance of suffering a heart attack within 10 years.

Previously statins had been offered only to people who have a 20 per cent risk. The change follows new guidance from NICE, The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

It could see an additional 4.5 million patients offered the drugs, bringing the total of eligible people to 17 million – around 40 per cent of all adults in England.

If everyone eligible took statins between 20,000 and 50,000 deaths could be prevented every year, NICE claims.

However, GPs’ leaders warn that doctors could find themselves spending to much time dealing with the “worried well” at the expense of sick patients.

Cholesterol is essential for your body to work well, but too much ‘bad cholesterol’ (called low-density lipoprotein or LDL) is unhealthy. Statins reduce the amount of ‘bad cholesterol’ your body makes.

High levels of ‘bad cholesterol’ in your blood can lead to fatty deposits building up in your arteries. This can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, which includes conditions such as coronary heart disease  (leading to angina and heart attack) and stroke.

Your body will always make cholesterol so if you stop taking a statin, it’s likely your cholesterol levels will rise. If you are prescribed a statin, you need to take it every day. Statins are most beneficial when you take them on a long-term basis.