A £10-a-week pill for chest pains has the potential to save the lives of thousands of heart-failure patients and slash the cost of hospital admissions, medical trial results have shown.
The drug, ivabradine, is already available in the UK for angina, the pain caused by insufficient blood reaching the heart. However, only around 10 per cent of treated angina patients are prescribed it.
The test results suggest that ivabradine could be used as a cost-effective treatment for many thousands of patients with moderate to severe heart failure. One expert described the evidence as a "significant breakthrough". At a conservative estimate, up to 10,000 deaths a year in the UK could be prevented, he said.
Over a typical study period of two years, the drug cut the risk of death from heart failure by 26 per cent in the patient population studied. It had a similar impact on the likelihood of being admitted to hospital because of worsening symptoms.
More than 700,000 people over the age of 45 live with heart failure, which occurs when damage to the heart leaves it too weak to pump blood efficiently round the body.
An estimated 68,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. Heart failure causes symptoms of fatigue, breathlessness, increased heart rate, and swollen ankles. It can lead to serious complications, and around 40 per cent of those affected are dead after a year.
The findings were presented yesterday at the European Society of Cardiology annual meeting in Stockholm. Results from the trial were also published in The Lancet online.
Professor Martin Cowie, consultant cardiologist at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, who led the UK arm of the study, said: "The evidence represents a significant clinical breakthrough in the management of heart failure and is incredibly important for patients with this condition. We now know that more lives can be saved and improved simply by adding ivabradine to their current treatment in order to take some of the strain off the heart. It is vital that the results of this study are implemented and ivabradine is used as part of standard heart failure treatment as soon as possible."