WASHINGTON, Nov. 10 (UPI) -- A vaccine that targets a protein in the blood lowered cholesterol levels dramatically in mice and macaque monkeys, researchers reported in a new study.
The protein, PCSK9, encourages the breakdown of receptors cholesterol binds to when it is flushed out of the body. People who do not produce the protein have a decreased risk of heart disease, while some with mutations in the protein are more prone to developing cardiac conditions.
Two other new drugs, alirocumab and evolocumab, were recently approved by the FDA that target PCSK9 and dramatically reduce cholesterol levels, but their use is restricted to patients with a genetic, hard-to-treat form of high cholesterol or specific types of heart disease.
The two drugs, like the vaccine, work significantly better than statins, however they cost between $7,000 and $12,000 per year per patient. Researchers at the University of Mexico and National Institutes of Health think the vaccine could cost a fraction of that.
"Statins are still the most commonly prescribed medication for cholesterol. Although they are effective in many people, do have side effects and don't work for everyone," said Dr. Alan Remaley, a researcher at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, in a press release. "The results of our vaccine were very striking, and suggest it could be a powerful new treatment for high cholesterol."
The researchers tested the vaccine alone in mice, finding it significantly lowered bad cholesterol in the blood. With the macaques, they combined it with statins, finding an even more significant drop in cholesterol levels.
More studies with macaques are planned, as well as eventual tests in humans.
The study is published in the journal Vaccine.