A PILL costing just £1.40 a day which dramatically slashes the number of deaths from heart failure is available to British patients from today.
The wonder drug could save the lives of tens of thousands of sufferers from one of the most common heart conditions each year.
It would also save the NHS millions by cutting hospital admissions by a quarter.
One expert who has been involved in the drug’s trials hailed it as “fantastic news for both patients and doctors”.
Professor Martin Cowie, consultant cardiologist and specialist in heart failure at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, said: “This will have a huge impact up and down the country.”
The drug has already been used in angina patients in the UK for years and is known to be safe. But now it has been approved by the European Medicines Agency for use in treating those with heart failure, a devastating condition which affects 900,000 people in this country.
It occurs when the heart becomes too weak to pump blood efficiently around the body, leading to fatigue, breathlessness, increased heart rate and other complications.
This EMA approval is an important step in the drug – ivabradine, which is also known under the brand name Procoralan – being licensed in the UK for widespread use in the NHS.
The medicines watchdog, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, is considering the trial data, with a licensing decision expected later this year.
In the meantime, it can only be prescribed at the discretion of individual primary care trusts or specialist cardiologists in hospitals.
Heart failure kills around 100,000 people each year and many patients find they are admitted to hospital time and again because of their symptoms.
Yet trials have shown that Procoralan slashes the number of deaths by 39 per cent, suggesting that 39,000 lives could be saved.
It also cuts hospital admissions by 24 per cent which is set to significantly reduce the £625million a year in healthcare costs that heart failure amounts to for the NHS – a possible annual saving of more than £100million.
New trial data published today involving 6,505 people in 37 countries including the UK shows that Procoralan can also cut the risk of death from all types of cardiovascular disease by 17 per cent. The drug, which is made by Servier, works by slowing the heart rate. Unlike other treatments, it lowers heartbeats per minute without lowering blood pressure.
Professor Cowie, said: “Heart failure is a very common problem, affecting approximately 1 per cent of the population. The decision to approve this new indication for ivabradine is great news for both doctors and patients, and is a significant step forward.”
Procoralan is set to revolutionise the lives of the 50 per cent of patients prevented from taking the standard treatment beta blockers because they either do not work or have unpleasant side effects.
Maureen Talbot, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “There are already several medicines available in the UK for treating heart failure, but some people’s condition and symptoms remain uncontrolled. Knowing doctors have another option to offer those patients whose condition is particularly difficult to treat is really positive news.”
Heart failure can be caused by conditions ranging from high blood pressure to heart disease. With more than 27,000 new cases each year, the incidence is 60 per cent higher in men.