A team of doctors has proved you can teach an old drug new tricks. Salim Yusuf of Ontario's McMaster University and colleagues announced last week that a blood-pressure medication, ramipril, turns out to have broader benefits. It lowers risk of heart attack and stroke in people with heart disease. Doctors already use ramipril to help survivors of heart attacks and heart failure live longer. Now Yusuf says the drug could save millions from developing these conditions in the first place.
More than 9,000 patients participated in the five-year study, which was funded by ramipril's makers, other private sources and the Canadian government. Among the findings, which will be published in the Jan. 20 New England Journal of Medicine: ramipril cut risk of heart attack by 20 percent and stroke by 31 percent. The results raise new hopes about drugs that belong to the same class. These so-called ACE inhibitors fight blood clots and prevent the body from making hormones that raise blood pressure.
Yusuf and colleagues also encountered a mystery: patients on ramipril were less likely to develop diabetes. They're not sure why. "Prevention of heart attack and stroke is understandable," Yusuf says, "but prevention of diabetes is novel and fascinating." But for heart patients, ramipril's latest use is fascinating enough.