Patients hit by the disabling side effects of taking statins have been thrown a lifeline – thanks to a new cholesterol-lowering pill that cuts the risk of heart attack and stroke.
The drug, bempedoic acid, was given the green light by NHS spending watchdogs last year after early data showed it was safe and reduced harmful cholesterol by up to 25 per cent.
According to landmark trial results unveiled this weekend, this leads to a 13 per cent lower rate of major cardiovascular events, including fatal and non-fatal heart attacks, and strokes.
When heart attacks alone were looked at, the risk reduction was 23 per cent and patients taking the daily tablet were 19 per cent less likely to need a stent or heart bypass operation.
All 14,000 volunteers in the study were statin-intolerant – suffering muscle pain and weakness which affects a sizeable minority who take the tablets.
The drug, bempedoic acid, was given the green light by NHS spending watchdogs last year after early data showed it was safe and reduced harmful cholesterol by up to 25 per cent
Patients in the trial reported no muscle problems and few other side effects from the new pill.
The data was announced to a packed audience of international heart experts at the American College of Cardiology conference in New Orleans.
Cardiologist Professor Kausik Ray, who led the UK arm of the international study at Imperial Clinical Trials Unit in London, said: ‘This is big news – we knew bempedoic acid was safe and reduced cholesterol. Now we know it prevents heart attacks and strokes.’
Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death, killing 180 people a day in Britain.
High cholesterol is a key risk factor and affects up to 60 per cent of adults. Experts say statins remain the gold standard for cholesterol-lowering – reducing levels by up to 50 per cent, cutting heart risk in half and costing as little as £20 per patient, per year.
For those who can’t take them, the best effects will be seen when bempedoic acid is combined with other cholesterol-lowering action.
Prof Ray calls it ‘frustrating’ when patients can’t take statins. ‘It means we may not be able to get cholesterol levels down enough.
‘Adding bempedoic acid into the mix, with other cholesterol lowering drugs, we’ve halved some patients’ cholesterol readings, without side effects, which is great.Bempedoic acid is the fifth medication we now have that targets cholesterol. There’s no magic to any of them – lowering LDL [harmful cholesterol] by whatever route prevents heart attacks, strokes and other disabling cardiac events.
Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death, killing 180 people a day in Britain (Stock Image)
‘What matters is how early we catch patients, how low we get their levels and for how long. The earlier, lower and longer the better.’
Bempedoic acid can be prescribed by GPs, meaning those who need it don’t have to wait for a heart specialist appointment to start.
Married father-of-two Peter Eggle, 73, has been on bempedoic acid for the past 18 months and feels ‘fantastic’. ‘My cholesterol is the best it’s ever been,’ he says.
The former pub owner, of Uxbridge, West London, suffered a heart attack in 1994 and was put on statins but had to stop taking them due to muscle pain and weakness.
He was on other drugs, but his cholesterol remained high and he suffered a minor stroke in 2019.
Now, thanks to bempedoic acid, his cholesterol reading last week was well within healthy ranges.
‘I’ve had no side effects and it helps to know I’m a lower risk of heart attack or stroke,’ he says.