PCSK9 inhibition: the dawn of a new age in cholesterol lowering?
Preiss D., Mafham M.
Proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9) is a circulating enzyme of hepatic origin that plays a key role in LDL receptor turnover. Genetic studies have confirmed that individuals with gain-of-function PCSK9 mutations have increased PCSK9 activity, elevated LDL-cholesterol levels and a severe form of familial hypercholesterolaemia. Those with variants leading to reduced PCSK9 have lower LDL-cholesterol levels and a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, and this has led to the development of various strategies aimed at reducing circulating PCSK9. Monoclonal antibodies to PCSK9, given every 2-4 weeks by subcutaneous injection, have been shown to reduce LDL-cholesterol by 50-60% compared with placebo in individuals with and without diabetes. PCSK9 inhibition also reduces lipoprotein(a), an atherogenic lipid particle, by around 20-30%. Major cardiovascular outcome trials for two agents, evolocumab and alirocumab, are expected to report from 2017. These trials involve over 45,000 participants and are likely to include about 15,000 individuals with diabetes. PCSK9-binding adnectins have been employed as an alternative method of removing circulating PCSK9. Small interfering RNA targeting messenger RNA for PCSK9, which acts by reducing hepatic production of PCSK9, is also under investigation. These agents may only need to be given by subcutaneous injection once every 4-6 months. Ongoing trials will determine whether anti-PCSK9 antibody therapy safely reduces cardiovascular risk, although high cost may limit its use. Development of PCSK9-lowering technologies cheaper than monoclonal antibodies will be necessary for large numbers of individuals to benefit from this approach to lowering cholesterol.