Could an annual injection be a viable alternative to statins?

An Austrian pharmaceutical company has developed a vaccine that could immunise people against high levels of cholesterol, according to new research published in the European Heart Journal.

Although the effects of the drug (called AT04A) have only been studied in mice, human trials are now under way.

The researchers were able to induce the production of antibodies against an enzyme called PCSK9 which prevents the clearance of low density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol) from the blood.

People with high levels of LDL cholesterol, which can be genetically inherited or caused by poor diet and lifestyle, are at much greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

The research shows that the vaccine, when injected under the skin of mice that have been fed fatty food, reduced the total amount of cholesterol by 53 per cent, reduced damage to blood vessels by 64 per cent, and reduced biological markers of blood vessel inflammation by between 21 and 28 per cent, compared to unvaccinated mice.

The induced antibodies remained functional over the whole study period and concentrations were still high at the end of the study.

Dr Günther Staffler, one of the study’s authors, said: ‘AT04A was able to induce antibodies that specifically targeted the enzyme PCSK9 throughout the study period in the circulation of the treated mice. As a consequence, levels of cholesterol were reduced in a consistent and long-lasting way, resulting in a reduction of fatty deposits in the arteries and atherosclerotic damage, as well as reduced arterial wall inflammation.’

‘As antibody concentrations remained high at the end of the study, it can be assumed they would continue to reduce cholesterol levels for some time afterwards, resulting in a long-lasting effect, as has been shown in previous studies.’

‘If these findings translate successfully into humans, this could mean that, as the induced antibodies persist for months after a vaccination, we could develop a long-lasting therapy that, after the first vaccination, just needs an annual booster.’