The first rigorous test of an pricey new drug that radically lowers cholesterol levels found that it significantly lowered the opportunity that a high-danger patient would have a heart attack or stroke. These were men and ladies who had exhausted all other alternatives.

The results of the study, which price about $ 1 billion and was paid for by Amgen, the maker of the drug, have been published on Friday in The New England Journal of Medicine and presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology.

The drug, Repatha, is called a PCSK9 inhibitor and can make cholesterol tumble to levels almost never seen naturally in adults, or even in individuals taking cholesterol-lowering statins. The Amgen drug and a comparable one particular, sold by Sanofi and Regeneron, were authorized by the Meals and Drug Administration in 2015 with the hope — and expectation — that they would lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and not just reduce levels of LDL cholesterol, the unsafe type.

That hope has now been realized for the Amgen drug.

“This is like the era of the statins coming in,” said Dr. Eugene Braunwald, a cardiologist at Harvard Health-related College who was the founding chairman of the investigation group that conducted the study, but was not an investigator on it. Like statins, which were introduced in the 1980s, the new class of drugs has the prospective to increase the wellness and longevity of millions of Americans with heart disease, the nation’s major killer, accounting for 1 in four deaths.

“It’s a new ballgame,” he mentioned.

But expense will be an issue. Statins are offered as inexpensive generics. The new drugs have a list price of $ 14,523 a year. “The subsequent massive challenge is monetary: how to pay for it,” mentioned Dr. David Maron, director of preventive cardiology at Stanford, who also was not involved in the study.

Insurance coverage companies have been reluctant to spend for the drug with out proof it protected high-danger patients from heart attacks and strokes. Kristine Grow, a spokeswoman for the insurers’ organization America’s Wellness Insurance Plans, said insurers would think about the new data.

Investors greeted the trial outcomes with initial disappointment Friday and appeared to assume that insurers would continue to restrict access to the drug, in part simply because it did not show a advantage in overall death prices from cardiovascular causes. Amgen’s stock was down much more than 6 % Friday morning, as was the stock of Regeneron, which sells a competing drug, Praluent.

Ronny Gal, an analyst for Bernstein, estimated that insurers would have to pay almost $ 1 million to stop a single occasion in a patient and stated in a note to investors that although use of the drug would expand, it would do so progressively. “The tension between patient advantage and the really high price charged for it will remain, in our view, the dominant problem,” he wrote.

Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a Yale cardiologist, agreed that provided the expense of the drug, the final results raise queries about what it is worth and who need to get it. But he known as the study “a strong outcomes trial” and stated “we need to celebrate” that it showed the drug is capable of decreasing threat.

The dilemma, he said, was that expectations were running so higher. “There was a lot of hubris about how pushing LDL down to 30 would remove heart disease,” he stated. Of course, it did not. About ten % of individuals taking the drug had a heart attack or stroke, or died of heart disease throughout the trial.

The study involved 27,564 guys and girls. About 80 % had already had a heart attack, and the rest had had a stroke or had discomfort in their legs and feet from narrowed arteries. They have been taking optimal doses of affordable, cholesterol-lowering statins, which gave them an typical LDL of 92, well inside the range — an LDL of under one hundred — that has been advised for high-risk individuals.

All continued with their statins, but half had been assigned to inject themselves with Repatha, also known as evolocumab, and the rest were assigned a placebo. These taking the new drug reached an typical LDL of 30. A quarter of participants got to an LDL of 19 or reduce.

Amgen estimates that about 11 million Americans are eligible to take the drug. They incorporate folks like these in the study and folks who have a genetic situation, familial hypercholesterolemia, that results in intractably high LDL levels and a grave risk of a heart attack.

Amgen maintains that its drug is worth the price and that by stopping heart attacks and strokes, it will also avoid the charges linked with treating patients with worsening conditions. But the drug would require to be taken for life, and the bill for its widespread use could potentially be large.

For cardiologists, the study was a critical test of a lengthy-held hypothesis: the lower the level of cholesterol in the blood, the far better.

The outcomes help that hypothesis. There seemed to be no floor to the positive aspects of cholesterol lowering, at least down to the stunningly low levels achieved in the study. The lower the LDL, the reduce the risk, with no leveling off of the linear relationship.

Dr. Maron said the final results had been “incredibly crucial,” adding, “The future appears brighter for patients with established coronary illness.”

But Dr. Rita Redberg, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, tempered her enthusiasm, saying she would like to see what takes place to the death prices over a longer period of time.

Dr. Redberg also worried about the potential for bias because Amgen paid for the study, helped design it, collected the data and helped write the paper. The data evaluation was done independently by a group of academic researchers, led by Dr. Marc S. Sabatine, chairman of a cardiovascular study group known as TIMI at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a teaching hospital for Harvard Medical College.

Participants in the study who used Amgen’s drug for two.2 years have been 20 % less likely to die from heart illness, have a heart attack or have a stroke (816 sufferers taking evolocumab had one of those outcomes, compared with 1,013 taking the placebo).

There was a 15 percent reduction in the combined threat of obtaining a heart attack or stroke or dying from cardiovascular disease, becoming hospitalized for worsening chest pain, or possessing a stent inserted to open a blocked artery (1,344 evolocumab sufferers versus 1,563 placebo patients).

The absolute reduction in the risk of a heart attack or stroke was 1.three percent at two years, Amgen stated, and 2 % at 3 years.

That signifies that 74 higher-risk patients would have to be treated for two years to avert 1 heart attack or stroke or death from heart disease and that at three years 50 would have to be treated. Extrapolating, the authors predicted that soon after five years, just 17 high-risk patients would have to be treated.

“Reducing the danger of a heart attack or stroke by 20 % is a fairly large reduction,” Dr. Sabatine stated. He and other folks predicted that the risk would be reduced further as time went on, as it does in sufferers taking statins. He noted that that impact was currently emerging, with a 25 percent reduction in the second year.

The only side impact observed for the duration of the study was a small incidence of redness or itching at the injection internet site, with two.1 percent of these taking the Amgen drug reporting such effects, compared with 1.six % of these taking the placebo injections. But sufferers in general did not stop utilizing the drug for that cause.

There had been concerns that the drug may possibly enhance the danger of diabetes, or affect considering and memory, but those effects have been not observed.

Numerous high-threat individuals did not wait for the results and were already taking the Amgen drug outdoors the trial, betting it would support.

Robert Johnson, 51, of Glen Mills, Pa., had a father who died of a heart attack at age 42. He has familial hypercholesterolemia, and his LDL in 2011 was 377. He’s taking the Amgen drug and a statin. Now his LDL is about 80.

“I feel much safer, considerably much better,” he mentioned. “I often felt there was a ticking time bomb in my heart.”

Kim Chaples, 55, of Lansdale, Pa., had an LDL of 200 even though she was taking maximum doses of a statin.

“I was scared,” she mentioned.

Two years ago, her LDL soared to 450 for no apparent cause.

Dr. Daniel Soffer of the University of Pennsylvania changed her statin prescription to the maximum dose of the most effective a single, and then mentioned, “There’s a drug out there I want you to try.”

She started taking evolocumab along with the statin. Two months later, her LDL was 50.

When she saw the lab report, she assumed there had been a mix-up. “I believed, ‘This can not be mine,’” she said.

Hearing the results of the new study, she mentioned, “makes me feel extremely very good.”