Sept. 20 (UPI) -- A combination of in-development drugs that lower triglycerides levels and approved statins that reduce cholesterol levels may reduce the risk of a heart attack, a genetics study found.
The Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge in England found the new drugs could also reduce blood glucose levels and the risk of diabetes. The findings were published Wednesday in the Journal of American Medical Association Cardiology.
"Our study suggests that these new triglyceride-lowering agents could give additional benefits to patients with heart disease when added to statins," Dr. Luca A. Lotta, senior clinical Investigator at the MRC Epidemiology Unit, said in a press release. "This combination could prevent more heart attacks as well as reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes."
Statin drugs, including Lipitor, Zocor and Crestor, are widely used to to reduce high levels of low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol, often referred to as "bad cholesterol."
But some people treated with statins encounter heart attacks, which have been partly linked to raised levels of triglycerides in their blood.
Bodies can break down triglycerides with a protein called lipoprotein lipase or LPL. Scientists and drug makers have been developing new agents that enhance the activity of this enzyme.
A large-scale study hadn't been conducted to see if new heart drugs could be used in combination with statins and cholesterol-lowering agents
MRC scientists used genetic data from 392,220 people, including 352,070 from the UK Biobank, to gain to find their likely efficacy and safety in advance of a large-scale trial. In the UK Biobank, the mean age was 57.
Scientists utilized Mendelian randomization, which uses naturally occurring genetic differences to simulate the effects of a clinical trial. Some people have a DNA variation that naturally increases the effectiveness of LPL, which mimicking what happens when LPL-enhancing drugs were used.
Data were collected from 1991 to this July and analyzed from 2014.
"We're using genetics to gain insight and help to predict the likely result of future trials," Lotta said. "Studies that simulate clinical trials are invaluable because large-scale trials are expensive, take years to conduct and considerable resources -- scientists need strong evidence of a drug's likelihood of success before it gets to the trial stage."
People with triglyceride-lowering DNA variants in the LPL gene and cholesterol-lowering variants in several other genes had a lower risk of heart disease compared with people with only one of either of these DNA variants.
Statins increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in 50 to 100 new cases for every 10,000 patients treated. Those with LPL gene variants had a lower risk of type 2 diabetes in all study groups, suggesting the new drugs when paired with statins may improve blood glucose control.