U study finds drug benefits black people

by Stephanie Kudrle

A new drug that reduces death rates in black patients with heart disease might be on the market as early as next year.

Two University researchers released a study of the drug BiDil to the American Heart Association on Monday. The study found a 43 percent reduction in deaths among black patients who took BiDil with other heart treatments.

Although the drug is still pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Jay Cohn, a University cardiologist and one of the study’s co-authors, said that was the most dramatic benefit the drug has ever demonstrated.

The study was designed to monitor the drug in black patients because they have a higher risk of heart failure, he said.

Preliminary trials showed that black patients responded to the drug better than white patients. That led Cohn and Anne Taylor, a heart specialist and associate dean of the Medical School, to halt the trial and begin a new study focusing on black patients.

BiDil restores nitric oxide, a powerful substance in the body that protects the heart from disease, Cohn said. The black population has a greater deficiency of nitric oxide, he said.

The drug also cut hospital stays by one-third and improves patients’ quality of life, according to the study.

Approximately 1,050 patients with heart disease were studied, and the drug saved four out of every 100 patients with heart failure, he said.

Cohn said he hopes this study leads to more trials in specific populations, and not necessarily just by race.

“There is clear evidence that there are many individual differences in the way people respond to disease and drugs,” he said. “And we haven’t explored them well enough.”

The drug’s maker, NitroMed Inc., funded the research. Cohn said any more research on BiDil depends on funding from the company.

But not everybody agrees testing medicine on a specific population is the best way to conduct research.

Michael Root, a professor in the philosophy department, said ear-marking a drug for one race can have unseen problems.

Defining race can be tricky, Root said, and labeling the drug as only for black patients could pose a problem to doctors when prescribing it to certain patients whose race is not clear.

He said one specific problem with targeting BiDil at black patients is that it was intended for the general population.