WASHINGTON — A new class of experimental medicines can dramatically lower cholesterol, raising hopes of a fresh option for people who can't tolerate or don't get enough help from Lipitor and other statin drugs that have been used for this for decades.
The first large studies of these drugs were presented Saturday at an American College of Cardiology conference in Washington, and more will follow today.
Several companies are developing these drugs, which are aimed at 70 million Americans and millions more worldwide who have high LDL or "bad" cholesterol, a major risk for heart disease.
Three studies of Amgen Inc.'s version of these drugs, called evolocumab, found it lowered LDL or "bad" cholesterol by 55 to 66 percent from baseline levels compared to others who took a fake drug, and by nearly that much when compared to Merck's Zetia, another cholesterol medication.
Another study introduced at the conference gives a big boost to fixing a bad aortic valve, the heart's main gate, without open-heart surgery. Survival rates were better one year later for people who had a new valve placed through a tube into an artery instead.
The results prompted some doctors to predict that in the near future, far fewer people will be having the traditional operation.
"It's going to be very hard to tell a patient that if they need an aortic valve, surgery is going to be their best option," said one of the conference leaders, Dr. Prediman K. Shah of Cedars Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles.
Several hundred thousand Americans have a bad aortic valve, keeping blood from passing through as it should. Until a few years ago, the only solution was a major operation to open the chest, cut out the bad valve and sew in a new one.
That changed in 2011, when Edwards Lifesciences Inc. won federal approval for an expandable valve that could fit in a catheter into a leg artery, guided to the heart and placed inside the old valve.