A common diabetes drug could be used to treat patients with a heart condition following research which shows it reduces the likelihood of heart failure and cardiac death, whether you also have diabetes or not.

Six patients at Barnet Hospital with weakened heart function participated in the global study (EMPEROR Reduced trial), taking the drug empagliflozin, which is commonly used to reduce the levels of sugar in the blood for those with type 2 diabetes.

According to the results, participants who took the drug for an average of 16 months were less likely to be admitted to hospital with heart failure and their kidney function also improved.

The drug works by lowering blood sugar by causing the kidneys to get rid of glucose in the urine. This then helps pass more spare water from the body, helping reduce both weight and blood pressure as an additional benefit. This is particularly helpful to patients with weakened heart strength who often retain water in their legs and lungs. Further trials will seek to test its protective effect on kidneys and other organs. Sister drugs dapagliflozin and canagliflozin have also had key positive trial results, and together these drugs, known as SGLT2 inhibitors, offer promising new options for both diabetic and in future non-diabetic patients with heart or kidney damage. 

In addition 11 patients at Barnet Hospital took part in a separate trial global trial aimed at benefitting patients with the commonest heart rhythm abnormality (atrial fibrillation), which increases the risk of strokes, heart weakness and premature death.

The trial investigated, in 2,789 patients, whether rhythm control therapy – with antiarrhythmic drugs or a procedure called catheter ablation – delivered soon after diagnosis improves outcomes compared to usual care.

Over an average of five years follow up, the early rhythm strategy reduced the risk of a combination of cardiovascular death, stroke, worsening heart failure and heart attacks by 1 in 5 less adverse events, which is the first time such clear benefits have been seen. The trial was presented at the prestigious Hot line sessions at the European Society of Cardiology congress, EAST-AFTNET 4.

Farhan Naim, director of research and development for the Royal Free London, said: “This is wonderful news and another cornerstone in treatments available for our cardiac patients. All credit goes to our patients who participated and allowed us to follow their progress for years and to our Barnet Hospital cardiac research team.” 

Dr Ameet Bakhai, cardiovascular research director and cardiologist, who led the studies at Barnet Hospital said: “I’d like to thank the patients and all my cardiology consultant colleagues and teams for supporting recruitment to these and other research studies.”

“During COVID-19, we still managed to have an amazing virtual conference of thousands of cardiologists and to see two trials we participated in show such significant benefits for patients with weakened hearts has been incredibly uplifting. It’s being involved in research and innovation that allows us to leave a lasting legacy of improvement for so many of our patient’s lives.”

Pictured: Barnet Hospital cardiac research team. L-R: Mr Vinodh Krishnamurthy (research physician associate), Ms Lai Lim (cardiology research sister), Dr Ameet Bakhai (principal investigator and cardiologist) and Dr Manoj Makharia (sub investigator).”