new research on a Canadian developed cholesterol medication shows it could help reduce risk of heart disease?

Prepared by John. A. Sawdon M.Sc. Public Education & Special Projects Director,
Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada

How a Canadian development could help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in Canadians with high levels of “bad” cholesterol

Do you know what the skinny is on high cholesterol? Over the years there has been much discussion and confusion about cholesterol, a fat that is naturally made by our bodies1 . While genetics play a large role in high blood cholesterol levels, lifestyle and diet has also been found to be a contributing factor2 . For example, cholesterol levels can be increased from a diet rich in foods containing saturated and trans fats - such as processed and deep-fried foods, fatty meats and commercially baked products2. High consumption of these foods can increase “bad” cholesterol or LDL-C, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke3 .

About four-in-10 Canadians have high cholesterol4 and are therefore at risk for developing cardiovascular disease3. Even with a healthier lifestyle and diet, Canadians with conditions such as atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) – a hardening and narrowing of the arteries – or familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) – an inherited condition causing high cholesterol at an early age – are still at high risk of developing heart disease5 . Of those at high risk, about 45 per cent are not at optimal LDL-C target levels, despite treatment with statins or other cholesterol-lowering therapies.

However, new research published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine showed promising results in lowering stubborn LDL-C levels, using a Canadian-developed6 biologic medication called a PCSK9 inhibitor. PCSK9 is a protein in the liver involved in degrading LDL cholesterol and has been shown to lower bad cholesterol levels in individuals already treated with statins or with difficult-to-treat cholesterol levels7 . The comprehensive, worldwide study showed that the treatment significantly reduced the risk of heart attack, stroke and the need for bypass surgery in patients with ASCVD, the underlying cause of cardiovascular disease .

Specifically developed for individuals with difficult-to-treat cholesterol levels, the study found that the medication also reduced the risk of heart attack by 27 per cent, non-fatal stroke by 21 per cent and the need for bypass surgery by 22 per cent8.

The findings, which included data from 27,500 patients from around the world, was presented on March 17, 2017 at the American College of Cardiology (ACC) 66th Annual Scientific Session in Washington.

What does this research mean for Canadians at high risk of developing heart disease? Canadians now have access to new treatments and developments with promising results. We encourage you to speak to your doctor about new developments and how to best approach your cardiovascular care. For more information about managing your heart disease risk, including high cholesterol, visit our page on Cardiac Risk Factors.


  1. Heart and Stroke. Blood Cholesterols. http://www.heartandstroke.ca/heart/risk-and-prevention/condition-risk-factors/high-cholesterol (Accessed February 22, 2017)
  2. CMAJ Open: Cardiovascular risk among South Asians living in Canada. http://cmajopen.ca/content/2/3/E183.full.pdf+html.Accessed February 2017.
  3. Statistics Canada. Cholesterol levels of Canadians, 2009 to 2011. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2012001/article/11732-eng.htm
  4. Heart and Stroke. Transforming Recovery - Hospitalizations http://www.heartandstroke.ca/what-we-do/our-impact/transforming-recovery. Accessed February 2017.
  5. Genest J, Hegele R, Bergeron J, et al. Canadian Cardiovascular Society Position Statement on Familial Hypercholesterolemia. Canadian Journal of Cardiology. 2014;30: 1471-1481.
  6. J. C. Y. Chan, D. E. Piper, Q. Cao, et al., “A proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 neutralizing antibody reduces serum cholesterol in mice and nonhuman primates,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America”, vol. 106, no. 24, pp. 9820–9825, 2009
  7. Michal M. Page, Gerald F. Watts., et al. “PCSK( inhibitors – Mechanisms of Action.” National Institutes of Health. 2016 Oct; 39(5): 164-167: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5079795/
  8. Marc S. Sabatine, M.D., MPH., Robert P. Guigliano, M.D., et al. “Evolocumab and Clinical Outcomes in Patients with Cardiovascular Disease”. The New England Journal of Medicine. May 2017; 376:1713-1722 http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1615664

The articles, on the Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada website, are presented with the understanding that the Foundation is providing information only and not rendering medical advice. Please check with your family physician, specialist or health care professional before implementing any of the ideas expressed in these articles.