Anti-inflammatory drugs could cut the risk of heart attack, and even slow down cancer, according to a study revealed at the European Society of Cardiology in Barcelona on Sunday.
The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, details the results of a clinical trial on heart attack survivors using canakinumab, a medicine originally developed to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
“For the first time, we’ve been able to definitively show that lowering inflammation independent of cholesterol reduces cardiovascular risk,” author Dr Paul Ridker of Brigham and Women’s Hospital said. “This has far-reaching implications.”
The trial saw 10,000 heart attack patients in close to 40 countries administered an anti-inflammatory drug once every three months.
The participants had tested positive for inflammation in a blood test, and were monitored for up to four years as part of the trial.
The study found risk reduction “above and beyond” those of patients taking only the usual cholesterol-lowering statins. A 15 percent reduction in the risk of a repeat heart attack was documented, but side effects, including an increased risk of potentially fatal infections, were also noted.
The study also found cancer deaths halved among those given the drug compared to those who were given a placebo. Lung cancer in particular was found to have a lower mortality rate.
The need for heart-related procedures, such as bypass surgery and stent insertion, were also reduced by more than 30 percent among participants.
“In my lifetime, I’ve gotten to see three broad eras of preventative cardiology,” Ridker said. “In the first, we recognised the importance of diet, exercise and smoking cessation. “In the second, we saw the tremendous value of lipid-lowering drugs such as statins. Now, we’re cracking the door open on the third era. This is very exciting.”
The clinical study was funded by Novartis, the company behind canakinumab. The trial began in April 2011.