Heart-Disease Research Focuses on Drug for African-Americans; Shands Jacksonville Was Part of a Clinical Trial of BiDil, Which Is Being Marketed for One Race

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Byline: CHERIE BLACK

After Jacksonville resident Johnnie Cherry suffered three heart attacks, his physician put him on a low-salt diet and inserted a pacemaker into his chest. The 49-year-old widower also was enrolled in a clinical trial in 2001 to determine whether a heart medicine targeted specifically for African-Americans actually worked.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the drug, called BiDil, marking one of the only times a drug has been marketed exclusively for one race.

BiDil is a combination of two generic drugs used to treat chest pain and high blood pressure.

The drug enhances the benefits of nitric oxide in heart patients. Nitric oxide is a substance produced by cells that protects the heart and arteries from damage. Research has shown African-Americans who suffer heart failure are more likely to have lower levels of nitric oxide. That is why BiDil worked more effectively in a study involving 1,050 African-American heart disease patients than it did for the general population. In that study, BiDil reduced mortality in African-Americans by 43 percent.

Those results led researchers to conduct a clinical trial aimed specifically at African-Americans.

The results of the three-year study, which was conducted at 170 sites across the country including Shands Jacksonville, showed the patients who took the new drug along with other heart treatments had a higher survival rate.

The trial was expected to be completed early this year, but the results were so impressive it was continued until July.

"African-Americans between the ages of 45 and 64 are 2.5 times more likely to die prematurely from heart failure than their non-black counterparts," said Anne Taylor, the trial's lead investigator from the University of Minnesota Medical School.

They also die earlier, she said.

"FDA approval of BiDil represents an important leap forward in addressing this health disparity," she said.

In Jacksonville the drug will be available to patients within the next couple of months, said Alan Miller, a University of Florida cardiologist and professor of medicine who led the clinical trial at Shands. …