A group of Icelandic researchers, part of an Amgen (AMGN) unit called deCODE genetics, uncovered a rare and previously unknown genetic variation in some people that drastically reduces the risk of a heart attack and lowers cholesterol levels.
The variation, which is a 12-letter deletion from a gene on chromosome 17, could pave the way for all new drugs that can prevent heart disease, reported Reuters. Researchers discovered the anomaly when studying the genomes and clinical data across Iceland’s population, which was then was confirmed across 300,000 people in other nations. The discovery was published online on the New England Journal of Medicine website.
So far scientists aren’t exactly sure how the gene works, but they do know that there is more at play than just lower cholesterol levels. The reduced risk of heart attack in people with the variation is more pronounced than could be attributed to lower cholesterol levels alone and likely includes other factors like reduced inflammation.
Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death worldwide, killing 7.4 million people in 2012, according to the World Health Organization. Pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. and abroad have been trying to find drugs that could either prevent the illness or treat it once it appears.
Statins, a class of cholesterol-lowering medications, have helped treat a number of patients, and an expensive new class of heart drugs known as PCSK9 drugs are also showing promise. However, drug companies are still researching new drug options that could work even better. Amgen is already on the hunt for a medicine that could play off this variation, inhibiting the ASGR1 protein that is connected with the gene.