Scientists claim that daily statins, which are taken by millions to prevent heart attacks and strokes, could be replaced by a gene-editing jab within the next decade. This new drug manipulates the DNA in cholesterol-regulating cells to stop the production of cholesterol after just one dose. The drug, called Verve-101, was unveiled at the American Heart Association’s annual Scientific Sessions in Philadelphia. Trial results showed that a single injection of the drug reduced ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol by over 50%. Cardiologist Professor Karol Watson predicted a revolutionary future in heart treatment, stating that the trial demonstrated the ability to durably lower LDL cholesterol through gene editing.
The experts behind Verve-101 believe that the drug’s effect is long-lasting and potentially permanent. While acknowledging that research is still in its early stages, they suggest that high cholesterol could be effectively cured or prevented from becoming a problem in the first place. Dr. Sekar Kathiresan, one of the cardiologists involved in the development of Verve-101, described it as a potential game-changer in treating heart disease and emphasized the possibility of a one-time therapy being the future. The drug has already been successfully used to treat nine patients with familial hypercholesterolaemia, a genetic condition that leads to high LDL levels and increases the risk of heart attacks. Trials will soon be expanded to include larger groups, including those with existing heart disease, with the hope that the treatment will be available by the end of the decade.
Verve-101 is based on CRISPR technology, which allows for the deletion and rewriting of sections of DNA within cells. Unlike other CRISPR-based treatments that can be expensive, Verve-101 can be mass-manufactured at a lower cost. Dr. Kathiresan stated that the treatment is expected to cost no more than other one-off heart procedures, such as stent or heart bypass operations.
Statins are widely prescribed in the UK, with approximately eight million adults taking them and over 71 million prescriptions being issued each year. These drugs have proven to be effective in reducing the risk of heart attacks by up to 50% and stroke risk by a third, at a relatively low cost. However, the safety of the new gene-editing treatment remains a major concern. Professor Watson highlighted the importance of ensuring its safety when editing the human genome. Dr. Andrew Bellinger, the chief scientific and medical officer at Verve Therapeutics, announced plans for large-scale trials involving thousands of heart disease patients to begin in 2025.
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