Promising drug could provide alternative to statins for those at risk of heart disease, new study finds

A new study has found that a drug could replace statins for those who cannot tolerate them, a promising finding for millions of people who are at risk of heart disease.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine Saturday, found that in patients with increased cardiovascular risk, bempedoic acid was found to decrease heart-related complications, such as heart attacks, or the need for procedures like a bypass operation or a stent placement.

“I take care of these patients,” cardiologist Dr. Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic, who led the study, told CBS News. “They say, ‘Dr. Nissen, I know I need to lower my cholesterol. I’ve tried all these different statins. My muscles hurt. I can’t take those drugs.'”

An editorial accompanying the study called the results “compelling,” and said they “will and should increase the use of bempedoic acid” in appropriate patients.

“Let me first tell you what the drug didn’t do,” Dr. Nissen said, when asked about potential side effects from bempedoic acid. “It didn’t cause muscle pain. That was very important. It did increase the risk of gout by about an absolute of 1%. And it did increase the risk of gallstones by about one absolute percent. Neither of those do we consider to be particularly serious.”

Bempedoic acid was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2020 as a way to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels.

“Yes, it’s approved, but not widely used,” Dr. Nissen said. “If you really want a drug to be widely used, it has to show evidence of benefit on the really important things. The kind of bad things that happened to patients with high cholesterol we now know can be reduced with bempedoic acid. And that’s what gives the drug now the opportunity to be paid for by the payers, and to be more available to patients.”

Drugs like PCSK9 inhibitors and ezetimibe are other alternatives to statins, but Dr. Nissen said bempedoic acid is an important addition.

“It’ll absolutely change the practice of medicine,” Dr. Nissen said of bempedoic acid. 

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