Experimental cancer drug shows new promise in slowing down heart disease

NEW YORK — Researchers often discover drugs being used to treat one condition that can actually treat another one as well. That has happened with a drug called saracatinib. It was initially tested as a potential treatment for cancer, lung disease, and Alzheimer’s. However, researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine have demonstrated that it could also have a positive impact on atherosclerosis, a condition in which fatty deposits build up in blood vessels. When these deposits harden into plaques, they can block blood flow and lead to heart attacks or strokes.

The researchers analyzed blood samples from individuals with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) who were already taking statins, a common medication used to reduce harmful fats in the blood. They compared these samples to those from healthy donors to identify the genes responsible for inflammation and immune response.

By examining thousands of genes, the researchers discovered that saracatinib could significantly reduce inflammation signaling in human blood samples and diseased tissue by over 90 percent. This finding suggests that saracatinib may be an effective therapy for patients who do not respond well to standard statin treatment. In addition to reducing inflammation, saracatinib also increased the activity of genes that help remove plaque deposits from arteries. This dual effect makes it a potentially valuable treatment for ASCVD.

Illustration of heart inside human body
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The researchers further tested saracatinib on animal models, including rabbits and mice. The drug demonstrated impressive results, reducing plaque-based inflammation in rabbits by approximately 97 percent compared to untreated animals. In mice, it led to an 80-percent reduction in inflammation-related cells within plaques and decreased plaque deposits by 48 to 70 percent, depending on the dosage.

“Our reverse-engineering method of finding new uses for old drugs can, in theory, be harnessed to uncover therapies for practically any disease that involves inflammation,” says study senior author Chiara Giannarelli, MD, Ph.D., in a university release. “Since these chemicals have already been tested for safety, this technique offers a swift and cost-effective approach to pharmaceutical development.”

While saracatinib looks promising, the researchers say it is important to conduct clinical trials to determine its effectiveness and safety in treating patients. The research team plans to utilize the same approach to explore potential treatments for other inflammatory conditions associated with ASCVD, such as rheumatoid arthritis and Type 2 diabetes. It is crucial to note that despite the positive findings, saracatinib still requires further testing to ensure its efficacy and safety in patients.

The study presents promising results for saracatinib as a potential treatment for slowing down the progression of heart disease caused by atherosclerosis. By reducing inflammation and promoting the removal of plaque deposits, this drug shows potential in improving the outcomes for patients at high risk of heart attacks. However, more research and clinical trials are necessary to determine its effectiveness and safety in treating individuals with ASCVD.

The study is published in the journal Nature Cardiovascular Research.

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