New Cholesterol Drug Could be Statin Alternative

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Statins are the drugs most often prescribed to treat high cholesterol, but they often cause troubling side effects or are not effective. A new cholesterol lowering drug substance called eprotirome that showed no serious side effects could eventually be a statin alternative.

The American Heart Association notes that a staggering 102.2 million adults in the United States have blood cholesterol levels of 200 mg/dL or greater. This value is recognized as the dividing line between “normal” and “borderline-high risk” (200 to 239 mg/dL). Of the 102.2, about 35.7 million American adults have levels of 240 mg/dL or higher, which is considered high risk.

People with high cholesterol have about twice the risk of the number one killer in America--heart disease--as people who have optimal levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). High cholesterol is also a risk factor for stroke.

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A team of researchers from Karolinska Institutet and several other centers have found that a substance called eprotirome can reduce blood cholesterol levels by acting specifically on the liver, which is the main cholesterol-producing site in the body. They made this discovery during a three-month trial that included 189 patients who had already been treated with statins.

In the clinical trial, patients who received eprotirome had up to 30 percent lower levels of harmful blood fats than patients who received a placebo. Eprotirome works by stimulating the breakdown of cholesterol, an ability it shares with thyroid hormone, and it does it only in the liver and without serious side effects.
Statins (e.g., Lipitor®, Mevacor®, Pravachol®, Zocor®) work by blocking the enzyme that the liver needs to produce cholesterol. Side effects associated with statins include extreme muscle pain, liver problems, headache, nausea, fever, and muscle breakdown (rhabdomyolysis).

Professor Bo Angelin, who headed the Karolinska study, noted that eprotirome “could help patients who react adversely to statins or be used as a supplementary treatment for those who don’t respond well to them.” An alternative to statins for treatment of high cholesterol would be welcome and could be on the horizon. Now comes the task of further studies to determine eprotirome’s safety and effectiveness in a larger group of patients over a prolonged period of time.

SOURCES:
American Heart Association
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Karolinska Institutet news release, Mar. 11, 2010

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