Revolutionary new cholesterol drug to save lives

Hundreds of thousands of Australians with life-threatening high cholesterol are set to benefit from a revolutionary new pill following the successful research and trial by Professor Stephen Nicholls, Director of the Victorian Heart Institute and Victorian Heart Hospital, based at the Monash University Clayton campus.

Professor Stephen Nicholls with a patient.

More than 300 Australian patients with high cholesterol took part in the breakthrough four-year clinical trial involving 14,000 people in 32 countries.

Through the trial, published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) the new cholesterol-lowering drug, bempedoic acid, demonstrated the following benefits:

  • Lowered low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, commonly referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’, by 20-25 per cent;
  • Reduced cardiovascular complications by 13 per cent;
  • Reduced heart attacks by 23 per cent; and,
  • Reduced coronary revascularisations (a procedure to open blocked arteries) by 19 per cent.

Professor Nicholls, renowned cardiologist and Director of the new Victorian Heart Hospital at Monash Health and Monash University’s Victorian Heart Institute, co-led the landmark worldwide trial.

Currently, 2.5 million Australians take statins to lower their cholesterol. Prof. Nicholls said about 20 per cent of patients on statins had tolerance issues and about 50 per cent of high-risk patients didn’t get their cholesterol down to target levels so they need other options.

“This new drug provides another option for lowering cholesterol and is particularly important for patients that cannot tolerate statins. That’s a real problem in clinical practice which limits our ability to effectively lower cholesterol in many patients,’’ Professor Nicholls said.

“It has the potential to help between 100,000 and 500,000 people in Australia.’’

Statins decrease the risk of having a stroke or heart attack because they cut down the amount of bad cholesterol in your blood. That cholesterol can make arteries narrow making it hard for blood to circulate, creating the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Statins may cause mild side effects, including headache, nausea, dizziness, diarrhea, constipation or achy muscles or joints. Rarely, statins may cause bad side effects, including confusion, memory loss, damage to your livers or high blood sugar.

The new bempedoic acid drug – currently called Nexletol – is being developed by US-based Esperion Therapeutics and will go to the Therapeutics Goods Administration for approval for use in Australia.

Professor Nicholls said he expected the drug to be available for Australian patients in the next two years.

The new world-class Victorian Heart Hospital operated by Monash Health at Monash University’s Clayton Campus is Australia’s first specialist cardiac hospital. It will offer a full range of cardiovascular services, including critical and emergency care, outpatient clinics, imaging services, and a full cardiac surgical team.