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Heart disease drug development is falling

Published on 30/08/16 at 11:09am

The number of drugs currently in development to combat heart disease has fallen in the last 20 years, it has been reported.

A study published in JACC: Basic to Translational Science found that, despite their status as one of the leading causes of death worldwide, drugs to treat cardiovascular disorders are becoming a secondary priority compared to cancer treatments. The study focused on all relevant drugs that entered Phase I clinical trials from 1 January 1990 to 31 December 2012, including pharmaceutical research and development pipelines.

During this time, 347 drugs meant for treating cardiovascular disease entered Phase I, with most being antihypertensive agents, lipid-lowering agents and anticoagulants. From 1990 to 1995, 16% of drugs that entered Phase I trials were meant to treat cardiovascular diseases. However, between 2005 and 2012 only 5% made it as far.

The number fell further in 2012 when cardiovascular drugs accounted for only 7% of Phase III testing, indicating that the number entering clinical trials in all stages of development had fallen over time. In the same period, the number of cancer treatments in development has risen by the same amount.

“These findings shed light on several important shifts in cardiovascular research and development activity over the past two decades,” remarked senior author of the study Aaron S. Kesselheim from Harvard Medical School. “Importantly, while the overall number of new investigational cardiovascular drugs has declined, we also found a relative growth in the number of drugs targeting novel biological pathways.”

Nearly half of the cardiovascular drugs that entered Phase III testing targeted a new biological pathway, one for which the FDA is yet to approve a therapeutic agent. The rate of new drugs entering Phase III trials increased from 27% in 1990-1991 to 57% in 2012.

“These findings are not entirely glass-half empty,” Douglas L. Mann, editor-in-chief of JACC: Basic to Translational Science, said. “Part of the decline in new drugs is that there are less ‘me too’ drugs that are similar to those already available. The study also refutes the premise that cardiovascular drugs are often riskier to develop than drugs in other clinical categories.”

Matt Fellows

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