A new anti-inflammatory drug that could help lower heart attack risk could open up a whole new frontier in medicine.
In the same way that statins are used to lower cholesterol, a new anti-inflammatory drug could not only lower the risk of heart attacks, but cancer, too.
In a paper published to The New England Journal of Medicine, scientists from pharmaceutical manufacturer Novartis unveiled the new drug, known as canakinumab. It lowers high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (CRP), which plays a key role in the inflammation and damage of arteries.
The drug was tested on 10,000 heart attack survivors with low cholesterol but high CRP, who were given a combination of statins and one of three different doses of canakinumab, or a placebo as a shot, every three months.
The findings showed that those on the medium dose had a 15pc lower chance of another heart attack, a stroke or a heart-related death over the next four years, compared to people given the placebo shots.
In a ratio described as very good, 33 of those tested were found to need treatment for five years to prevent one of these problems.
However, the researchers also found that those who had received the highest dose of canakinumab showed a lower risk of heart attacks, but this was not enough to determine that it was the result of the drug.
Slows growth of cancers
Another potentially major benefit was how the drug affected the growth and spread of cancers.
The results showed that the cancer death rate was only half as large among those getting canakinumab, while death rates for lung cancer were lower in people getting the two highest doses.
The researchers don’t believe that the drug prevents new cancers from developing, but it might slow the growth of any tumours that have already started.
There is a major downside to canakinumab, however, in that it was shown to raise the risk of fatal infections, with one in every 1,000 treated patients susceptible, particularly older people and diabetics.
The promising signs may outweigh the negative, but further tests will need to be done to help limit or eliminate this side effect.
Lead author on the study, Dr Paul Ridker, said: “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.”