Heart disease breakthroughNew statin may reverse heart disease

14 March 2006

More than 2 million people in the UK have been given fresh hope in their fight against heart disease.

Doctors believe they may have discovered a way of reversing damage in arteries which can lead to a heart attack by using a powerful anti-cholesterol drug, or statin, called rosuvastatin. The drug is marketed under the name Crestor.

Heart disease kills around 114,000 people each year in the UK. It occurs when arteries become clogged with fatty deposits, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Previously doctors have concentrated treatment on slowing the progress of what was thought to be an irreversible disease. But the results of a new global study show intensive use of a powerful new cholesterol-reducing drug can also reduce the deposits, known as atheroma, and unclog the arteries.

'Holy Grail' in heart disease

Consultant cardiologist Dr Neal Uren, from Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, which took part in the study, said atheroma reduction was the 'Holy Grail' in the fight to combat heart disease.

Dr Sarah Jarvis, a London GP and member of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said the news was 'dramatically exciting' and its importance 'cannot be underestimated'.

She said: 'For the first time we have a drug that can not only halt the progression of the disease, but in the vast majority of patients, it actually showed the disease regress.'

Intensive treatment with rosuvastatin

In the tests, 349 heart-disease patients were studied over two years at 53 centres in Australia, Canada, Europe and the US. They were given intensive treatment with rosuvastatin, which is a new form of statin.

Tests found that as cholesterol was reduced, build-ups of fatty deposits in the patients' arteries also showed a slight regression. Four out of five patients showed some form of reduction, and these reductions were found to be greatest in the arteries where the disease was most severe.

The full paper will be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on 5 April.