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New drug may boost 'good' cholesterol levels

November 15, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
How widespread is the problem of high cholesterol? One estimate by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts the number at 1 in 4 people older than 45 waging a battle against high cholesterol levels.

Now experts say a new medication may do more than lower bad cholesterol. It may raise your levels of "good" cholesterol too.

If you want healthy arteries, you may want to increase your "good" cholesterol. That's the aim of a brand-new drug. But there's also more good news for people concerned about their cholesterol, news that may also save you money.

Tens of millions of Americans rely on cholesterol lowering statins to keep their levels in check.

At the end of November, the top-selling prescription Lipitor will go generic.

"A lot of people can't afford their medications," said Dr. Vyshali Rao, director of the Women's Heart Program at Huntington Hospital. "And so the fact that it's going generic will be of tremendous benefit to a majority of my patients."

Despite saving money, Rao says many patients are expressing concern.

"Do I still take Lipitor once it goes generic? And the answer is absolutely yes," said Rao.

Lipitor and other statins were breakthrough drugs, but news of an experimental medication called evacetrapib may take cholesterol treatment to a new level, especially for those who struggle with low levels of HDL.

"There's good cholesterol, which is HDL; bad cholesterol, which is LDL. And we know that each one contributes in its own way to the risk of heart disease," said Rao. "Nowadays our focus has turned towards HDL -- the good one -- and we've realized that the higher the HDL is, the more protective it is against heart disease and stroke."

The drug evacetrapib reduced "bad" cholesterol 36 percent and boosted "good" cholesterol nearly 130 percent. Patients reported no significant side effects.

"It has, I think, the potential of being a wonderful, wonderful new edition," said Rao.

The next step is a global study to find out if the increase in HDL will improve patients' longevity.

Evacetrapib is part of a class of drugs that inhibits CETP (cholesteryl ester transfer protein) levels in the blood. This enzyme turns good cholesterol into bad.

Evacetrapib is manufactured by drug company Eli Lilly. Merck is also working on a similar drug called anacetrapib.

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