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    Experimental Drug Helps Failing Hearts

    Simdax May Improve Symptoms of Patients With Heart Failure
    WebMD Health News
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

    Nov. 14, 2005 (Dallas) -- An experimental drug may be able to help people with heart failure get through the critical hours after they are rushed to the emergency room gasping for breath.

    Researchers studied 600 hospitalized people getting therapy for rapidly deteriorating heart failure. Those who were given the experimental drug called Simdax were much more likely to improve over the next five days, compared with those who got a placebo.

    Researcher Milton Packer, MD, says the participants were "all terribly sick, sweating, with erratic blood pressures." Packer is director of the Center for Biostatistics and Clinical Science at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

    Short-Term Improvements

    Over the five-day period, about three-fourths of people taking Simdax got better, compared with two-thirds of those on placebo. Plus, people who got the drug were 30% less likely to have the condition worsen to the point their doctors needed to give additional treatments, or die.

    But the drug does not appear to extend long-term survival. Six months later, similar numbers of people in both groups had died.

    Also, Simdax appears to raise the risk of abnormal heart rhythms and dangerously low blood pressure, the study shows.

    Packer says the drug may be able to help as many as half of the 3 million Americans hospitalized each year for heart failure.

    The study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association.

    How Simdax Works

    Heart failure happens when the heart's weak pumping action causes a backup of fluid in the lungs and other body tissues. The major cause of heart failure is a heart attack or coronary artery disease, according to the American Heart Association.

    Simdax packs a one-two punch against heart failure. First, it allows the heart to pump, or contract, more efficiently. It also helps blood vessels to relax, facilitating the flow of blood from the heart to other organs throughout the body.

    The drug "looks like it's effective for bailout when people can't breathe and need oxygen," says Timothy Gardner, MD, a heart surgeon at Christiana Care Health Services in Wilmington, Del., who was not involved with the study.

    "These are people who, if they are not dying, feel like they're dying," he tells WebMD. "We need a short-term therapy to get them over the hump and [Simdax] seems to do that."

    Simdax, which is known generically as levosimendan, is already on the market in several European countries.

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