A drug called bempedoic acid (brand name Nexletol) has been shown to be an effective alternative for lowering cholesterol and reducing heart attack risk, according to a major study published in The New England Journal of Medicine on Saturday.
Most cholesterol medications are statins, which work by "blocking a substance your body needs to make cholesterol," per the Mayo Clinic.
Some examples of statins are atorvastatin (brand name Lipitor) and rosuvastatin (brand name Crestor).
Although statins are effective in reducing cholesterol, not everyone can tolerate them.
Some common side effects include headaches, nausea and muscle/joint pain.
In rare cases, statins can trigger a spike in blood sugar (which could lead to type 2 diabetes), memory problems and damage to the liver, muscles or kidneys.
Like statins, Nexletol also works by blocking the production of LDL ("bad" cholesterol) in the liver — but it does so in a different method and without the reported side effects, according to report.
Those who took Nexletol showed a 13% lower risk of major cardiac events and a 23% reduced risk of heart attack.
Bempedoic acid has previously been prescribed as a companion drug to statins.
In the new study, led by Dr. Steven Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic, researchers tested its use without a statin and found that it has the desired effect on its own.
Of the 13,970 patients across 32 countries who participated in the study, half took Nexletol and half took a placebo.
Those who took Nexletol showed a 13% lower risk of major cardiac events (death from cardiovascular causes, nonfatal myocardial infarction, nonfatal stroke or coronary revascularization).
Additionally, patients who took bempedoic acid showed a 23% lower risk of heart attack.
The number of deaths did not vary between the two groups; researchers said the mortality difference may require a longer period of study.
The study was presented Saturday at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology and was funded by Nexletol maker Esperion Therapeutics.
Dr. John H. Alexander of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who wasn’t involved with the study, wrote in the journal that the study’s results were "compelling" — and that they "will and should" lead to the use of Nexletol by patients who cannot or choose not to take statins.
"It is premature, however, to consider bempedoic acid as an alternative to statins," the doctor continued.
"Given the overwhelming evidence of the vascular benefits," statins remain the primary choice for most patients, he also said.
The Associated Press contributed reporting.