Heart Drugs Trial Offers Hope for Blacks; Combination of Two Older Drugs Worked So Well in Trials That Tests Stopped Early

Article excerpt

Byline: CHERIE BLACK, The Times-Union

As he described the deliciously forbidden taste of his secret-recipe collard greens and smothered pork chops, Robert Jones knew the homemade feasts he and his mother enjoyed could now happen only on rare occasions.

After seven bypass surgeries in two years, the 60-year-old Jacksonville man's eating habits and lifestyle have drastically changed. His mother's have changed as well. Three years ago, Geneva Jones underwent open-heart surgery and now swallows more than a dozen pills a day to help maintain her health. Her son drives her to and from doctor's appointments almost daily.

But the success of a recent clinical trial could help the Joneses with their history of heart problems.

In July 2001, Geneva Jones joined more than 1,000 patients nationwide -- 10 in Jacksonville -- in a clinical trial testing a new drug that could better help African-Americans with heart failure.

The African-American Heart Failure Trial, or A-HeFT, targeted African-American men and women with moderate to severe heart failure and those whose hearts didn't pump blood efficiently. The trial was conducted at 170 sites across the country, including Shands Jacksonville.

It was designed to see if the drug BiDil, along with standard heart-failure therapies, can reduce mortality and hospitalization rates and improve the quality of life for African-Americans with heart failure.

BiDil is a combination of two generic medications already available on the market; it enhances the benefits of nitric oxide in heart patients. Nitric oxide, a substance produced by cells, protects the heart and arteries from damage. African-Americans suffering from heart failure are more likely to be nitric oxide deficient.

The trial was expected to be completed in early 2005 but was stopped in July after researchers and NitroMed Inc., the company testing the drug, saw the drug had significant survival benefits for patients in the trial.

"You do all this drug development and you find two old drugs that work, it's amazing," said Alan Miller, University of Florida cardiologist and professor of medicine, who led the trial at Shands. …