People with a type of heart condition are able to use more oxygen and carry out everyday tasks more easily thanks to a new drug, a study has shown.

The obstructive form of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), which thickens the heart muscles, reduces the blood flow leaving the heart. This makes it harder for the heart to work properly so people with the condition experience shortness of breath. It also restricts the exercise they can do.

The condition is one of the most common causes of sudden death in young people and athletes who are otherwise healthy.

Now a “promising” new drug, aficamten, has been developed which allows those with the condition to use more oxygen.

The study involved 282 adults, half of whom were given the experimental drug, while the remaining volunteers took a placebo.

They used treadmills or bicycles while the research team measured their oxygen levels. The research team found that the group which received aficamten had a substantial increase in their maximum oxygen use – 1.7 milliliters per kilogram per minute more than the participants in the placebo group.

Cardiologist Ahmad Masri, from Oregon Health and Science University, explained: “By having more oxygen available during exercise, patients with obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can more easily walk, perform household chores, and do other everyday tasks.

“Our latest clinical trial results suggest aficamten is a promising treatment for HCM.”

An increased peak oxygen uptake can boost a person’s ability to be more active. Conversely, reduced oxygen uptake increases the risk of heart failure, the need for a heart transplant, and death.

Around 1 in 500 people suffer from HCM, which is often caused by inherited gene mutations.

Non-drug treatment options for HCM include surgery to get rid of excess heart muscle.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved mavacamten in 2022, the first drug to target the underlying cause of obstructive HCM.

This particular drug, however, could raise the risk of heart failure and it interacts with a number of common medications. This means that those who take the drug must be very closely monitored.

Read more in New England Journal of Medicine.

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