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New Drug May Put the Squeeze on Heart Failure
Date:8/19/2011

By Denise Mann
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Aug. 18 (HealthDay News) -- An experimental heart failure drug may change the way doctors treat this vexing condition, researchers say.

Heart failure, also called congestive heart failure, occurs when the heart can no longer pump strongly enough for blood to the reach the rest of the body. About 5.7 million people in the United States have heart failure, and 300,000 people die from it each year, according to the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. While no cure exists, treatments focus on improving quality of life and helping people live longer.

A new drug -- omecamtiv mecarbil, which is being developed by Cytokinetics Inc. in San Francisco -- may someday offer an alternative to current treatments, according to the results of two clinical trials published Aug. 20 in a special issue of The Lancet.

"It improves heart function in a completely new and unique manner," said Dr. John R. Teerlink, a cardiologist at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center and author of one of the new studies.

"The drug directly increases the activation of certain heart muscle proteins, effectively recruiting 'more hands on the rope' with each heartbeat," he said. "By improving the efficiency and performance of the heart, it is our hope that patients with heart failure will actually feel better with fewer symptoms of fatigue and shortness of breath, and perhaps even live longer," he said.

However, it is too early to draw any sweeping conclusions, as the drug -- called a cardiac myosin activator -- is in the early stages of clinical trials.

The currently available heart failure drugs, such as milrinone (Primacor) and dobutamine (Dobutrex), indirectly increase heart function, and can cause dangerous, even deadly, heart rhythm abnormalities, Teerlink said. "These drugs are 'necessary evils' because they are the only currently available pharmaco
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