More than 5 million people in the U.S. have heart failure and for these individuals, the risk of premature death is high with about half of those who have the condition dying within 5 years of diagnosis. A new drug developed by Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, however, brings hope for a better treatment for heart failure patients.

Findings of a new study have revealed that in patients with chronic heart failure, the drug called LCZ696 can significantly reduce cardiovascular deaths and the chances of being readmitted to the hospital due to heart failure, showing potentials to become a blockbuster drug.

For a large study presented at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) Congress in Barcelona, Spain on Saturday and published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Aug. 30, Milton Packer, from the Department of Clinical Sciences at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and colleagues involved more than 8,000 individuals with heart failure and an ejection fraction of 40 percent or less. Ejection fraction measures how well a person's heart beats and this normally range between 55 and 70 percent.

The researchers then randomly assigned the participants to either receive 200mg of LCZ696 twice a day or 10mg of the older drug enalapril, an angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor used for treating high blood pressure and heart failure, twice daily, on top of recommended therapy.

After 27 months, the researchers found that Novartis' experimental drug reduces the risks of cardiovascular-related deaths by 20 percent and the risks of death by other causes by 16 percent compared with enalapril, which has been in existence for more than two decades. LCZ696 also reduces the odds of patients getting hospitalized because of heart failure by 21 percent.

The outcomes in patients who received LCZ696 were significantly better than those who received enalapril that the study was concluded early.

"The trial was stopped early, according to prespecified rules, after a median follow-up of 27 months, because the boundary for an overwhelming benefit with LCZ696 had been crossed," the researchers wrote. "LCZ696 was superior to enalapril in reducing the risks of death and of hospitalization for heart failure."

The new drug also appears to be safer as fewer of the patients who received LCZ696 stopped the medication due to adverse events compared with those who received enalapril.

"By demonstrating a very significant reduction in cardiovascular deaths while improving Quality of Life, Novartis' new heart failure medicine, LCZ696, represents one of the most important cardiology advances of the last decade," Novartis Pharmaceuticals Division Head David Epstein said.

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