For the first time, researchers have shown that lowering inflammation, regardless of cholesterol levels, can help prevent recurrent heart attacks.
A bonus: The same inflammation-fighting drug may reduce the risk of cancer, too.
Researchers presented the findings regarding canakinumab, a drug approved to treat rare immune-related conditions, at the European Society of Cardiology Congress. Canakinumab, marketed under the brand name Ilaris, is not approved for a heart disease indication and has no effect on cholesterol levels.
However, in a study of more than 10,000 patients who had a previous heart attack and demonstrated persistent high levels of inflammation, an optimal dose of canakinumab reduced the risk of a cardiovascular event by up to 15 percent.
Risk of dying from lung cancer was cut by 75 percent over four years of observation, although the study’s authors noted these findings are “exploratory” and weren’t the goal of the study.
The New York Times summarized the research and talked to cardiology experts about the results.
“This is fantastic,” David J. Maron, MD, the director of preventive cardiology at Stanford University School of Medicine, told The Times. “The green light just went on for full-fledged investigation and development of effective and cost-effective new therapies.”
The primary downsides of canakinumab, The Times pointed out, are it is expensive ($200,000 annually) and leaves patients more susceptible to infection.
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