Canakinumab: Inflammation-reducing drug hailed as breakthrough in fight against heart attacks and cancer

Doctors found drug cuts heart attack risk by 25 per cent and halves chances of dying from cancer

Lucy Pasha-Robinson
Sunday 27 August 2017 18:56 BST
Unlike other treatments that tend to focus on cholesterol, Canakinumab works to lower inflammation in the body
Unlike other treatments that tend to focus on cholesterol, Canakinumab works to lower inflammation in the body (iodrakon/iStock)

Scientists have invented a pioneering new drug that prevents heart attacks and certain types of cancer by lessening inflammation in the body.

Unlike other treatments that tend to focus on lowering cholesterol, Canakinumab targets inflammation that can cause clogged arteries and the growth of certain cancers.

Doctors, who called the drug the "new frontier" in treating heart conditions, found it cuts the risk of a heart attack by 25 per cent, as well as halving the chances of dying from cancer and protecting against inflammatory conditions such as gout and arthritis.

The findings came after scientists discovered heart attacks often occur in people whose cholesterol is normal and whose main risk is chronic inflammation.

Inflammation, and its effects on the body, has been gaining more widespread attention in recent years with scientists finding increasing evidence to suggest it plays a role in many life-altering conditions such as dementia.

People on the drug also had lower cancer death rates, especially from lung cancer. An anti-tumour effect is an "exciting" possibility, researchers said, but warned further studies needed to be conducted as the experiment was not designed to test the drug's effect on tumours.

"We suddenly know we can address the inflammation itself, the same way we learned almost 25 years ago that we could address cholesterol. It's very exciting," said the study's leader, Dr Paul Ridker of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Doctors do not believe the drug prevents new cancers from developing, but believe it might slow the growth of tumours that have already occurred, based on other research.

The cancer results were unexpected, but not consistent across all types of tumours, said Dr Barnett Kramer, prevention chief at the National Cancer Institute.

He called the lower risk for lung cancer "a promising lead" for future research, but said it comes with concern about the drug's side effects.

Canakinumab raised the risk of fatal infections in about 1 in every 1,000 patients treated, researchers found, with older people and diabetics most vulnerable.

Additional reporting by agencies

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in