Novel drug shows promise for heart failure and sleep apnoea

Heart monitor

A novel drug is showing promise for alleviating heart failure, a common condition associated with sleep apnoea and a reduced lifespan.

The drug, known as AF-130, was tested by scientists at University of Auckland, New Zealand and the University of São Paulo, Brazil. They found it improved the heart’s ability to pump, but, equally important, prevented sleep apnoea, which itself reduces lifespan.

AF-130 is soon to be FDA approved for a different indication, paving the way for human trials.

“This drug does offer benefit for heart failure, but it’s two for the price of one, in that it’s also relieving the apnoea for which there is currently no drug, only CPAP (a breathing device), which is poorly tolerated,” said Professor Julian Paton, Director of the University’s Manaaki Manawa, Centre for Heart Research.

Reduced life expectancy

Following a heart attack and subsequent heart failure, the brain responds by activating the sympathetic system to stimulate the heart to pump blood. This, together with the consequent sleep apnoea, contributes to the patient’s reduced life expectancy. Most patients die within five years of a heart failure diagnosis.

“This study has revealed the first drug to temper the nervous activity from the brain to the heart thereby reversing the heart’s progressive decline in heart failure,” added Professor Paton. “These findings have real potential for improving the wellness and life expectancy of almost 200,000 people living with heart disease in Aotearoa New Zealand.”

The part of the brain that sends nervous impulses to the heart also controls respiration, so the drug has a dual function, reducing the ‘fight or flight’ response while also stimulating breathing to stop the sleep apnoea.

“Over recent decades there have been several classes of drugs that have improved the prognosis of heart failure,” said Cardiology Consultant and Associate Professor, Martin Stiles. “However, none of these drugs work in the way that this new agent does. So it is exciting to see a novel method that potentially reverses some features of heart failure.”

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