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The future direction of cholesterol-lowering therapy

Evans, Marc; Roberts, Aled; Rees, Alan

Therapy and clinical trials

Purpose of review Observational studies suggest a continuous positive relationship between vascular risk and cholesterol without any lower threshold level. We review recent and future clinical trials addressing the question of optimal treatment goals for cholesterol reduction and how these relate to present guidelines. With increasing focus on greater cholesterol reduction, new approaches to lipid-lowering therapy are being developed; we discuss some of these agents including the new statin, rosuvastatin and novel cholesterol transport inhibitors such as ezetimibe.

Recent findings The Heart Protection Study demonstrated that LDL cholesterol reduction to levels as low as 1.7 mmol/l was associated with significant clinical benefit in a wide range of high-risk individuals, irrespective of baseline cholesterol levels, with no apparent threshold level for LDL cholesterol with respect to cardiovascular risk. The Heart Protection Study also demonstrated that the benefits of LDL cholesterol reduction extend into peripheral vascular disease and cerebrovascular disease prevention and suggest that the most recent National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III guidelines, with LDL cholesterol targets of 2.6 mmol/l, may result in undertreatment of a large number of patients. Various large end-point trials, including Treating to New Targets and Study of Effectiveness of Additional Reductions in Cholesterol and Homocysteine will attempt to further address the issue of optimal LDL cholesterol reduction. New therapies are being developed to meet the challenge of more intensive cholesterol lowering. Rosuvastatin is a potent, hydrophilic enantiomeric statin producing reductions in LDL cholesterol of 40-69% over its dose range of 5-80 mg. Ezetimibe is a selective cholesterol absorption inhibitor, with a site of action at the intestinal epithelium. Optimum reductions in LDL cholesterol of up to 25 and 60% reduction in chylomicron cholesterol content are seen with a 10-mg dose.

Summary Evidence is accumulating supporting the safety and benefits of aggressive cholesterol reduction, with no apparent threshold for LDL cholesterol. New therapies will aid in achieving lower cholesterol levels and the use of combination therapies targeting different aspects of cholesterol metabolism may produce additional benefits. Outcome studies are awaited to further address these issues.

Department of Metabolic Medicine, University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, UK

Correspondence to Marc Evans, Lecturer, Department of Metabolic Medicine, University Hospital of Wales, Heath Park, Cardiff CF11 4XW, UK. Tel: +44 2920 743000; fax: +44 2920 744581; e-mail:

© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.