WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Large doses of AstraZeneca's high blood pressure drug Atacand may protect people with kidney disease from developing kidney failure and the need for dialysis or a transplant, researchers said on Wednesday.
Daily doses of eight times the normal amount of the drug, also known as candesartan, lowered abnormal amounts of protein in the urine, called proteinuria, in kidney disease patients in a Canadian study funded by AstraZeneca.
"We believe that the better the reduction in proteinuria you get with your treatment, the less likely the patient is to end up developing end-stage kidney disease requiring replacement therapy like dialysis or transplantation," said Dr. Ellen Burgess of the University of Calgary in Canada.
Burgess said reducing urinary protein can also cut the risk of cardiovascular disease such as heart attack and stroke.
The kidneys normally filter waste products from blood and leave behind things the body needs like proteins. But proteins get into urine when the kidney's filters are damaged.
Atacand is in a class of drugs called angiotensin II receptor blockers, or ARBs. They lower blood pressure and make it easier for the heart to pump blood.
Diabetes and high blood pressure are leading causes of serious kidney disease.
The study in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology involved 269 patients who had high protein levels in the urine despite a standard dose of 16 mg daily of Atacand.
People who were then given 128 mg daily of the drug for 30 weeks saw more than a one third reduction in protein in the urine compared to those getting 16 mg a day over the same period, the researchers said.
The researchers said they were surprised, noting that other ARBs had been tested at high doses without similar success.
"The question it really begs is: how much more could you or should you give? Would you get better reduction if you went to 12 times the average dose?" Burgess said.
People who take these drugs run a risk that the kidneys will be unable to get rid of potassium properly, and high potassium levels can be deadly. Eleven patients dropped out of the study due to high blood potassium levels.
Editing by Maggie Fox and Todd Eastham