Medical lipid-regulating therapy: current evidence, ongoing trials and future developments

Marc Evans, Aled Roberts, Steve Davies, Alan Rees
Drugs 2004, 64 (11): 1181-96
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Elevated low density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C) and reduced high density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-C) levels are well recognised CHD risk factors, with recent evidence supporting the benefits of intensive LDL-C reduction on CHD risk. Such observations suggest that the most recent National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III guidelines, with LDL-C targets of 2.6 mmol/L, may result in under-treatment of a significant number of patients and form the basis for the proposed new joint European Societies treatment targets of 2 and 4 mmol/L, respectively, for LDL and total cholesterol. HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors (statins) reduce LDL-C by inhibiting the rate-limiting step in cholesterol biosynthesis and reduced CHD event rates in primary and secondary prevention trials. The magnitude of this effect is not fully accounted for by LDL-C reduction alone and may relate to effects on other lipid parameters such as HDL-C and apolipoproteins B and A-I, as well as additional anti-inflammatory effects. With increasing focus on the benefits of intensive cholesterol reduction new, more efficacious statins are being developed. Rosuvastatin is a potent, hydrophilic enantiomeric statin producing reductions in LDL-C of up to 55%, with about 80% of patients reaching European LDL-C treatment targets at the 10 mg/day dosage. The Heart Protection Study (HPS) demonstrated that LDL-C reduction to levels as low as 1.7 mmol/L was associated with significant clinical benefit in a wide range of high-risk individuals, including patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus, or peripheral and cerebrovascular disease, irrespective of baseline cholesterol levels, with no apparent lower threshold for LDL-C with respect to risk. Various large endpoint trials, including Treating to New Targets (TNT) and Study of Effectiveness of Additional reductions in Cholesterol and Homocysteine (SEARCH) will attempt to further address the issue of optimal LDL-C reduction. At low LDL-C levels, HDL-C becomes an increasingly important risk factor and is the primary lipid abnormality in over half of CHD patients, with the Fenofibrate Intervention and Event Lowering in Diabetes (FIELD) study set to assess the effect of raising HDL-C on cardiovascular events in patients with low HDL-C and LDL-C levels below 3 mmol/L. A variety of agents are being developed, which affect both LDL-C and HDL-C metabolism, including inhibitors of acyl-coenzyme A-cholesterol acyl transferase, microsomal transfer protein and cholesterol ester transfer protein, as well as specific receptor agonists. Ezetimibe is a selective cholesterol absorption inhibitor, which produces reductions in LDL-C of up to 25 and 60% reduction in chylomicron cholesterol content with a 10 mg/day dosage. A 1 mmol/L reduction in LDL-C results in a 25% reduction in cardiovascular risk, independent of baseline LDL-C levels. Growing evidence supports the concept that lower is better for LDL-C and that increasing HDL-C represents an important therapeutic target. Furthermore, there is growing appreciation of the role of inflammation in atherogenesis. Consequently, increasing numbers of people should receive lipid-regulating therapy with the development of newer agents offering potential mechanisms of optimising lipid profiles and thus risk reduction. In addition, the pleiotropic anti-inflammatory effects of lipid lowering therapy may provide further risk reduction.

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