Hope of a simple jab each year to cut cholesterol
They say it might be possible to develop a vaccine to immunise people against the dangers of potentially fatal heart disease and narrowing of the arteries. If successful it could eventually replace the need for millions of people to take a daily dose of statins.
Tests in mice showed the treatment reduced cholesterol by more than half, fatty deposits in the arteries by nearly two-thirds and blood vessel inflammation by over a quarter.
The wonder therapy is now being tested on humans at the Medical University of Vienna, with the results expected at the end of the year.
Dr Gunther Staffler of Affiris, the Austrian company behind the vaccine, said: “If these findings translate successfully into humans, this could mean that, as the induced antibodies persist for months after a vaccination, we could develop a long-lasting therapy that, after the first vaccination, just needs an annual booster.
“This would result in an effective and more convenient treatment for patients, as well as higher patient compliance.”
A breakthrough study was the first to show it is possible to immunise genetically modified mice with a molecule that causes the body to produce antibodies against an enzyme called PCSK9 which plays a role in preventing the flushing out “bad” cholesterol from the blood. When injected under the skin in mice fed a fatty diet, the total amount of cholesterol fell by 53 per cent.
Dr Staffler said: “The vaccine was able to induce antibodies that specifically targeted PCSK9 in the mice. “
As a consequence, levels of cholesterol were reduced in a consistent and long-lasting way, resulting in a reduction of fatty deposits in the arteries and atherosclerotic damage, as well as reduced arterial wall inflammation.”
Statins are the most commonly prescribed drug in Britain, with six million people taking them to lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or socalled “bad cholesterol” in the blood.
People with high levels, either due to their genetic inheritance or poor diet and lifestyles, are at greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease, the most common cause of death in the UK.
Yet millions are thought to be afraid of taking statins over fears that they might cause muscle aches, memory loss and sleep disturbance.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani of the British Heart Foundation said: “This vaccine could lead to a simple way to target high cholesterol and ultimately reduce people’s risk of heart disease.”