IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Study may lead to new cholesterol drugs

A protein that has been linked to the amount of cholesterol absorbed in the body may lead to new cholesterol-lowering drugs, corporate researchers said.
/ Source: Reuters

Corporate researchers said they had figured out how to prevent the body from absorbing cholesterol in the gut and said it may lead to the development of new cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Their experiment, published in the journal Science, also may explain how the anti-cholesterol drug Zetia works. The drug, made by Schering-Plough Corp, had been known to lower “bad” cholesterol but no one understood quite how it worked.

It seems to affect a protein called NPC1L1, Scott Altman, Michael Graziano and colleagues at Schering’s research labs reported.

Mice genetically engineered to lack this protein absorbed 70 percent less cholesterol from their diets than did normal mice, they found.

When these genetically engineered mice were given Zetia, known chemically as ezetimibe, they did not absorb any less cholesterol, which suggests the drug may work by blocking NPC1L1.

The researchers said additional tests on their mice suggest that NPC1L1 does not work on its own, but they will continue to try to find out how the process works.

“Given the link between plasma (blood) cholesterol levels and heart disease, elucidating the mechanism of dietary cholesterol absorption is very important,” Dr. Eric Klett and Dr. Shailesh Patel of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston wrote in a commentary.

“The pharmaceutical industry is actively seeking drugs that specifically inhibit cholesterol absorption without affecting the absorption of other dietary lipids (fats).”

For instance the diet drug Xenical, made by Roche, stops the intestine from absorbing about a third of all fat in the diet -- but also blocks fat-soluble vitamins such as A and K and causes other side-effects.