New drug may prevent secondary heart attacks

  • 03/09/2017

Researchers in the United States are hailing a drug that's taking a new approach to help prevent heart attacks. 

It targets the damage and lowers inflammation that often triggers secondary attacks.

After two heart attacks, 68-year-old Phyllis Reed quit smoking, lost about 15 kilograms and took statins to reduce cholesterol. And yet she worries.

"I'm afraid of having another heart attack. It's just something that never goes away," she told CBS. 

Now, there may be one more way of lowering her risk - by reducing inflammation, the body's response to injury. Researchers tested a powerful anti-inflammatory drug called canakinumab in people with a history of heart attack.

Ten-thousand patients with blood test evidence of ongoing inflammation were followed for nearly four years. There was a 15 percent reduction in the risk of heart attack, stroke or cardiovascular death compared to those taking a placebo.

Doctor Paul Ridker of Brigham and Women's Hospital was the study's lead author. He has been researching the role of inflammation in heart disease for two decades. 

"Everyone in this trial already had very aggressively lowered cholesterol levels. The question was - can we attack the residual inflammatory risk, not the residual cholesterol risk? And it was a home run," he says.

"Diet, exercise and smoking cessation and going to the gym remain critically important and everybody should get their cholesterol down working with physicians to do so, but this is an entire new part of the disease." 

This drug, which is already approved for rare inflammatory diseases, reportedly came with an increased risk of serious or fatal infections. Researchers will need to investigate that further.