March 30, 2009 / 1:17 PM / 10 years ago

EPO fails to help heart attack victims in study

* 138-patient study used Roche’s version of EPO

* Safety concerns not linked to regular EPO use-researcher

By Lewis Krauskopf

ORLANDO, Fla., March 30 (Reuters) - High doses of erythropoietin, which boosts red blood cells, failed to improve the heart’s pumping function in a study of heart attack victims, while its use also raised safety concerns.

Erythropoietin, or EPO, is a hormone that produces red blood cells by stimulating bone marrow. Versions of EPO have registered blockbuster sales primarily as a red blood cell booster for anemic patients undergoing dialysis or chemotherapy.

Based on small studies, researchers hypothesized that EPO had other properties that could protect the heart after a heart attack by reducing cell death and enhancing growth of new blood vessels.

“(The latest study is) disappointing because from the incremental studies we were expecting much more,” said Ilka Ott, professor of cardiology at Germany’s Deutsches Herzzentrum heart center who presented the findings at the American College of Cardiology scientific meeting in Orlando on Monday.

The study used a version of EPO made by Roche Holding AG ROG.VX, which did not participate in the research design. Ott said she could not exclude different results with other EPO versions, but said it was unlikely.

The 138 patients in the trial had suffered a heart attack and undergone a successful stenting procedure to prop open the arteries. They received either an infusion of EPO or a placebo immediately after the stenting, as well as 24 hours and 48 hours later.

Using an MRI, researchers measured the pumping function of the heart six months afterward, but found no difference from the placebo group.

However, at 6 months, 13 percent of patients in the EPO group had adverse events, including a recurrent heart attack, a stroke, another stenting procedure or death. That compared with 5.7 percent in the placebo group.

The difference was not statistically significant, but Ott said the data indicated researchers should be cautious with this type of use for EPO.

Still, she noted the safety issues could not be extrapolated to current use of EPO, as the heart attack study involved much higher doses.

“Anemia is a completely different regimen,” Ott said. “It’s low-dose, and it’s long-term, and that has been proven safe.”

Versions of EPO have become big-selling products for Amgen (AMGN.O), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N), and Roche.

However, the drugs have faced restrictions following data that showed they could raise the risk of death in cancer patients. (Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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