A new study has found that the anemia drug sold under the names Epogen and Procrit don’t reduce damage in heart attack patients, and may actually harm them. The study is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Procrit and Epogen are known as erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs). ESAs are a bioengineered version of a natural protein made in the kidney that stimulates the bone marrow to produce more red blood cells. Epogen is used to treat anemia in patients with chronic kidney disease, while Procrit is also approved to treat anemia in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. The drugs are not approved for limiting damage from heart attack damage.
According to a Bloomberg news report, animal studies had indicated that the drugs might reduce heart damage, but the new JAMA study did not see this outcome. The study looked at 222 heart attack patients at 28 hospitals who, within four hours of undergoing angioplasties, were administered an ESA or a placebo. MRI’s were later used to measure heart damage.
No difference was seen in the patients who received the ESA when compared to those given a placebo. And in a group of patients 70 and over, more heart damage was seen in those treated with an ESA. Five patients who were given the drugs died, had new blood clots form or had strokes or second heart attacks, while those administered the placebo experienced no such complications.
ESAs have long been the subject of safety concerns, and have had their safety labeling updated several times since 2007. A number of prior studies have suggested that the drugs may increase the risks of heart attack, strokes, blood clots and death, while others have indicated they may promote tumor growth. ESAs carry a â€œblack box warningâ€ – the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) strongest safety warning – regarding the risk of blood clots, strokes, heart attacks and death.
Last February, the FDA placed restrictions on ESAs, and doctors wishing to prescribe them must undergo special training to identify high risk users and negative side effects.