Experimental drug boosts HDL counts

A novel drug called torcetrapib can dramatically increase blood concentrations of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the beneficial cholesterol, according to a preliminary study. Derived from a trial involving only 19 people, these data paved the way for two much larger studies that are just under way.

Seventeen men and two women took a torcetrapib pill daily for 4 weeks, then an inert pill for 4 more weeks. Scientists recorded the amount of HDL in the volunteers’ blood after each period. Some of the volunteers also completed a third drug regimen, in which they took torcetrapib twice a day.

Nine of the participants took the anticholesterol drug atorvastatin along with torcetrapib.

The volunteers’ HDL scores rose significantly while they took torcetrapib, with or without atorvastatin, the researchers report in the April 8 New England Journal of Medicine. Their HDL scores rose even higher after they took torcetrapib twice a day—more than doubling from an average of 34 milligrams per deciliter of blood after taking only the inert pill to 70 mg/dl. A desirable HDL score is considered to be 40 mg/dl or higher.

Torcetrapib hikes HDL concentrations by suppressing a compound called cholesteryl ester transfer protein, says study coauthor Ernst J. Schaefer, an endocrinologist at the New England Medical Center and Tufts University in Boston. On the other hand, atorvastatin, a member of the statin drug family, works primarily by lowering concentrations of low-density lipoprotein, the harmful cholesterol.

Statins and torcetrapib “seem to be made for each other,” says Schaefer.

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