Can’t take statins? New pill cuts cholesterol, heart attacks
Drugs known as statins are the first-choice treatment for high cholesterol but millions of people who can’t or won’t take those pills because of side effects may have another option.
In a major study, a different kind of cholesterol-lowering drug named Nexletol reduced the risk of heart attacks and some other cardiovascular problems in people who can’t tolerate statins, researchers reported Saturday.
Doctors already prescribe the drug, known chemically as bempedoic acid, to be used together with a statin to help certain high-risk patients further lower their cholesterol. The new study tested Nexletol without the statin combination — and offers the first evidence that it also reduces the risk of cholesterol-caused health problems.
Statins remain “the cornerstone of cholesterol-lowering therapies,” stressed Dr. Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic, who led the study.
But people who can’t take those proven pills “are very needy patients, they’re extremely difficult to treat,” he said. This option “will have a huge impact on public health.”
Too much so-called LDL or “bad” cholesterol can clog arteries and lead to heart attacks and strokes. Statin pills like Lipitor and Crestor – or their cheap generic equivalents – are the mainstay for lowering LDL cholesterol and preventing heart disease or treating those who already have it. They work by blocking some of the liver’s cholesterol production.
But some people suffer serious muscle pain from statins. While it’s not clear exactly how often that occurs, by some estimates 10% of people who’d otherwise qualify for the pills can’t or won’t take them. They have limited options, including pricey cholesterol-lowering shots and another kind of pill sold as Zetia.
Nexletol also blocks cholesterol production in the liver but in a different way than statins and without that muscle side effect.
The new five-year study tracked nearly 14,000 people who were unable to tolerate more than a very low dose of a statin. Half got daily Nexletol and half a dummy pill.
The main finding: Nexletol-treated patients had a 13% lower risk of a group of major cardiac problems. Then researchers teased apart those different conditions and found a 23% reduced risk of a heart attack, the biggest impact. The drug also cut by 19% procedures to unclog arteries. There wasn’t a difference in deaths, which researchers couldn’t explain but said might require longer to detect.
The data was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and presented Saturday at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology. The study was funded by Nexletol maker Esperion Therapeutics.
The results are “compelling,” Dr. John H. Alexander of Duke University, who wasn’t involved with the study, wrote in the journal. They “will and should” spur use of the drug by patients unwilling or unable to take statins.
“It is premature, however, to consider bempedoic acid as an alternative to statins,” he cautioned. “Given the overwhelming evidence of the vascular benefits,” statins remain the top choice for most patients.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Lauran Neergaard, The Associated Press
High-risk places affected by respiratory outbreaks
A respiratory virus outbreak has been declared at Southbridge Lakehead long-term care home.
The outbreak is facility-wide at the Vickers Street home. Restrictions are in place on admissions, transfers, discharges, social activities and visitation until further notice.
There are now four active respiratory outbreaks in high-risk settings in the Thunder Bay district, including at Hogarth Riverview Manor on the first floor and 2 North and on Plaza 1 at Pioneer Ridge.
A facility-wide COVID-19 outbreak is also ongoing at the Manitouwadge Hospital.
There are no active influenza outbreaks in the district.
The Thunder Bay District Health Unit reports that emergency department visits because of respiratory-related complaints have decreased and are at seasonal levels in its catchment area and the influenza A surge overall has subsided with the peak in cases and hospitalizations having taken place in November of 2022.
COVID-19 does continue to circulate with 104 new lab-confirmed cases in the last seven days.
Hospitalization numbers are stable with 23 people in the hospital with COVID in the district, including three in intensive care units.
The health unit continues to stress the importance of precautions like getting the annual flu vaccine and latest COVID booster as well as wearing a face mask, particularly indoors and crowded places. Also, stay home when sick.
WHO advisers to consider whether obesity medication should be added to Essential Medicines List
Advisers to the World Health Organization will consider next month whether to add liraglutide, the active ingredient in certain diabetes and obesity medications, to its list of essential medicines.
The list, which is updated every two years, includes medicines “that satisfy the priority health needs of the population,” WHO says. “They are intended to be available within the context of function health systems at all times, in adequate amounts in the appropriate dosage forms, of assured quality and at prices that individuals and the community can afford.”
The list is “a guide for the development and updating of national and institutional essential medicine lists to support the procurement and supply of medicines in the public sector, medicines reimbursement schemes, medicine donations, and local medicine production.”
The WHO Expert Committee on the Selection and Use of Essential Medicines is scheduled to meet April 24-28 to discuss revisions and updates involving dozens of medications. The request to add GLP-1 receptor agonists such as liraglutide came from four researchers at US institutions including Yale University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
These drugs mimic the effects of an appetite-regulating hormone, GLP-1, and stimulate the release of insulin. This helps lower blood sugar and slows the passage of food through the gut. Liraglutide was developed to treat diabetes but approved in the US as a weight-loss treatment in 2014; its more potent cousin, semaglutide, has been approved for diabetes since 2017 and as an obesity treatment in 2021.
The latter use has become well-known thanks to promotions from celebrities and on social media. It’s sold under the name Ozempic for diabetes and Wegovy for weight loss. Studies suggest that semaglutide may help people lose an average of 10% to 15% of their starting weight – significantly more than with other medications. But because of this high demand, some versions of the medication have been in shortage in the US since the middle of last year.
The US patent on liraglutide is set to expire this year, and drugmaker Novo Nordisk says generic versions could be available in June 2024.
The company has not been involved in the application to WHO, it said in a statement, but “we welcome the WHO review and look forward to the readout and decision.”
“At present, there are no medications included in the [Essential Medicines List] that specifically target weight loss for the global burden of obesity,” the researchers wrote in their request to WHO. “At this time, the EML includes mineral supplements for nutritional deficiencies yet it is also described that most of the population live in ‘countries where overweight and obesity kills more people than underweight.’ “
WHO’s advisers will make recommendations on which drugs should be included in this year’s list, expected to come in September.
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“This particular drug has a certain history, but the use of it probably has not been long enough to be able to see it on the Essential Medicines List,” Dr. Francesco Blanca, WHO director for nutrition and food safety, said at a briefing Wednesday. “There’s also issues related to the cost of the treatment. At the same time, WHO is looking at the use of drugs to reduce weight excess in the context of a systematic review for guidelines for children and adolescents. So we believe that it is a work in progress, but we’ll see what the Essential Medicines List committee is going to conclude.”
Some pediatric surgeries may be postponed as pediatric ICU faces strain: Shared Health
Re-emerging levels of respiratory illness have caused increased patient numbers at the HSC Children’s pediatric intensive care unit over the last week, and some non-urgent procedures may be postponed, Shared Health says.
On Thursday morning, there were 17 pediatric patients in the intensive care unit, and a considerable number of which were already experiencing health issues that were aggravated by respiratory illness. The unit’s normal baseline is nine, Shared Health said in a Thursday media release.
The release said patient volumes at the children’s emergency department are stable but more children with flu-like symptoms have been recorded coming in over the last two weeks, going from a low of 22 in mid-March to 47 on Wednesday.
A variety of respiratory illnesses are spreading through the community and have contributed to the increased level of patients in the pediatric intensive care unit, according to Shared Health.
Meanwhile, the number of patients in the neonatal intensive care unit was at 51 on Thursday morning, which is slightly above the unit’s normal baseline capacity of 50.
Ten staff are being temporarily reassigned to the pediatric intensive care unit to deal with the increased level of patients, the release said.
Some staff are being pulled from the pediatric surgical and recovery units, which means non-urgent procedures may be postponed due to the reassignments, Shared Health said.
Families of patients impacted by the postponements will be contacted, they said, and all urgent and life-threatening surgeries will go unhindered.
Families can protect their children from respiratory illnesses by limiting their contact with people exhibiting cold-like symptoms, washing their hands frequently and staying up to date on vaccinations, Shared Health said.
Patient volumes increased last month
While overall wait times at emergency and urgent care centres were stable in February, Shared Health said daily patient volumes in the province went up.
The daily average of patients seeking care was 750 last month, which is an increase from 730.4 in January, according to a separate Thursday news release.
The average length of stay for patients in emergency or urgent care units to be transferred to an inpatient unit went down to 21.77 hours last month, which is an improvement from 22.5 hours in January, the release said.
The overall number of people who left without being seen went down last month, from 13 per cent in January to 12.1 per cent in February, according to Shared Health. It also decreased at the HSC emergency department, from 25 per cent in January to 23.4 per cent last month.
Shared Health is reminding Manitobans to continue to call 911 in case of an emergency, and said the sickest and most injured patients will remain their priority.
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