Arthritis drug can lower CHD risk by blocking plaques

A rheumatoid arthritis drug could be used to prevent CHD, according to researchers who have identified a key factor in the development of the disease.

Arthritis drug may cut plaques (Photograph: SPL)
Arthritis drug may cut plaques (Photograph: SPL)

An international group led by University of Cambridge researchers found that an inf­lammatory protein called int­erleukin-6 receptor (IL6R) contributes directly to CHD development.

In a second study, researchers said the disease could be prevented by targeting IL6R using existing anti-inflammatory treatments.

Research has connected inf­lammation to atherosclerosis, which causes CHD. But it rem­ained unclear whether this link was causal. Now, two meta-analyses published in The Lancet have shed light on this mechanism.

Genetic variation
In the first study, researchers explored whether a genetic var­iation that reduces the eff­ect of IL6R in some people also lowered their risk of CHD, comparing 82 studies of more than 200,000 participants.

Researchers found that for each copy of this variant inherited, a person’s levels of the inflammatory C-reactive and fibrinogen proteins fell by 7.5% and 1% respectively. Risk of CHD dropped by 3.4%.

In the second study, researchers led by a team at University College London looked at data from 40 studies of 133,449 participants. They found that this genetic variant had a similar eff­ect on inflammatory biomarkers in the blood as tocilizumab, a rheumatoid arthritis drug that blocks IL6R.

Study co-lead Dr Adam Butterworth of the University of Cambridge said tocilizumab ‘might therefore be a viable drug for preventing heart disease’.

Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK, said: 'People with rheumatoid arthritis have a slightly greater chance of having a heart attack, which seems to be an effect of inflammation, and the risk is reduced by controlling the disease through drugs.

'It seems not unlikely, therefore, for a drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis - tocilizumab, which blocks the inflammatory processes by blocking the Il6R - may also show promise in treating heart disease.'

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