Researchers at the University of New Mexico in the US have announced the development of a new vaccine that significantly reduced the levels of low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in both mice and rhesus macaque monkeys. Researchers believe the vaccine could offer a more effective and cost effective alternative to current cholesterol-lowering treatments for people.
LDL cholesterol is commonly referred to as ‘bad’ cholesterol, as high levels of LDL cholesterol can cause a build-up of plaque in the arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke and heart disease.
While lifestyle changes, such as adopting a healthy diet and increasing physical activity, are key for maintaining normal cholesterol levels, many people take statins to lower LDL cholesterol. Statins work by blocking an enzyme needed by the liver to produce cholesterol.
Though statins can be effective, Dr. Chackerian, who headed the New Mexico research team, noted that they do not work for everyone and may cause severe side effects, including muscle pain, liver damage, digestive problems and increased diabetes risk.
The researchers say their vaccine, which works by inhibiting a cholesterol-regulating protein in the blood, may provide a more effective alternative to statins. One of the most exciting things about this new vaccine is it seems to be much more effective than statins alone," notes Dr. Chackerian.
Earlier this year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a drug called evolocumab that lowers LDL cholesterol. However, treatment with this drug could cost the patient more than $10,000 annually.
Dr. Chackerian said the new vaccine offered a more cost-effective treatment: "While the developed world may be able to sustain these costs, expense is likely to be a major impediment to the use of such drugs in the developing world. In contrast, vaccination for a wide variety of mostly infectious communicable diseases has been proven to be compatible with the health care infrastructure in the developed and developing world."