Queen Mary’s begin trials for alternative drug to statins to prevent high cholesterol heart attacks or stroke

Queen Mary research into statins alternative drug for cardiovascular disease. Picture: Jorge Duarte

Queen Mary research into statins alternative drug for cardiovascular disease. Picture: Jorge Duarte Estevao - Credit: Jorge Duarte Estevao/QMUL

A clinical trial led by researchers at Queen Mary University is looking for volunteer patients who are intolerant to the controversial statins to see if a new alternative cholesterol-lowering drug could save lives.

The international study that's being coordinated by the university's research centre in Whitechapel is recruiting 14,000 patients in 30 countries, to see if the newly-developed bempedoic acid reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Statins have been crucial in lowering cholesterol levels which are a major risk of cardiovascular disease, the biggest cause of premature death worldwide.

But some patients are intolerant to statins because of a side effect of the drug attacking enzymes in the muscles which can cause severe pain, while bempedoic acid appears to target enzymes only found in the liver.

One patient taking part in Queen Mary's study, retired nurse Mary Salim, agrees there is controversy about using statins.

"There aren't any great advances in medicine without clinical trials," she said. "So I wanted to give something back and help out."

The 72-year-old from Hackney was put on statins after a heart attack 15 years ago.

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"But unfortunately I developed muscle pain after three years," she recalls. "I realised I couldn't tolerate statins. I've tried five or six types over the years, but just don't get on with them."

The trials use alternative bempedoic acid or a placebo medication taken daily for two to five years, with regular tests to monitor cholesterol levels and other health factors.

Queen Mary lead researcher Dr Manish Saxena said: "Some patients unable to tolerate statins have side effects such as muscle aches and pains. This long term study is investigating the effect the bempedoic acid drug on preventing heart attacks and strokes in high-risk patients. It could be a safe alternative for lowering cholesterol."

Both statins and bempedoic acid lower cholesterol by inhibiting its development in the liver.

But the difference with bempedoic acid is that it only works in contact with a enzymes in the liver and not the muscles. So it doesn't have muscular side effects like statins.

People interested in taking part in study are being asked to get in touch with the research team on 020 7882 5662, or email whri-clinical-trials@qmul.ac.uk.