Some 30,000 lives could be saved within the next decade thanks to a cholesterol-lowing drug being offered on the NHS.
Inclisiran, which will be offered to hundreds of thousands of people, has been described as a potential "game changer."
It is hopes it could prevent 55,000 heart attacks and strokes, as well as save tens of thousands of people from an early death.
The treatment will be given to people with high cholesterol or mixed dyslipidaemia – abnormally high levels of fats in their blood – who have already had a heart attack or stroke, under draft final guidance by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).
NHS England said the drug will be rolled out at unprecedented scale after the health service and manufacturer struck a deal that enables use of inclisiran at a cost-effective price.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “This is a huge step forward in tackling the scourge of heart disease, which tragically kills thousands every year.
“I want to thank the NHS, Novartis and Nice for this work to help treat one of the world’s deadliest diseases.”
More than two-in-five people in England have high cholesterol, which puts them at significant risk of developing heart disease, NHS England said, adding that around 6.5 million adults were currently taking lipid-lowering drugs such as statins.
Heart disease accounts for around a quarter of deaths in England each year, NHS England said.
Nice said its recommendation of the drug applies to England and Wales.
Inclisiran will be given as an injection by nurses in GP surgeries across England, with an initial dose followed by another three months later and then twice a year thereafter.
The drug is the first of a new type of cholesterol-lowering treatment that uses RNA interference (RNAi) to help the liver remove harmful cholesterol from the blood, and Nice said clinical trial evidence shows that it might lower levels when other treatments have not reduced them enough.
The health watchdog said while there is no long-term evidence yet on inclisiran’s effect on cardiovascular outcomes, it is considered cost-effective in people who have previously had a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke and whose cholesterol levels stayed high even after being given other therapies.
Nice said the drug is also recommended for use in research trials of people who have never had a cardiovascular event.
NHS England and NHS Improvement estimates that around 300,000 people will have received the drug in three years’ time, helping to prevent 55,000 heart attacks and strokes, and potentially saving 30,000 lives in the next decade.
Meindert Boysen, Nice deputy chief executive and director of the Centre for Health Technology Evaluation, said: “Inclisiran represents a potential game-changer in preventing thousands of people from dying prematurely from heart attacks and strokes.
“We’re therefore pleased to be able to recommend it as a cost-effective option on the NHS supported by the ground-breaking deal between NHS England and NHS Improvement and Novartis – a deal that could see as many as 300,000 people with high cholesterol or mixed dyslipidaemia who have already had a previous cardiovascular event receive the drug over the next three years.”
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “The NHS is committed to using cutting-edge treatments to save and improve patients’ lives.
“Heart disease is still one of the major killer conditions so it is fantastic that we now have such an effective and convenient treatment for those living with dangerously high cholesterol levels.
“This world-leading deal for the rollout of inclisiran will save lives and enable hundreds of thousands of people to benefit from this revolutionary treatment, while also being fair to taxpayers.”
NHS England said the “population health agreement” deal between the NHS and drugmakers Novartis could eventually see nearly half a million people benefit from the treatment.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation described the drug’s approval as “good news for heart patients” and suggested further research could see it rolled out to a broader group.
He said: “More research is needed to confirm the full extent of its benefits, but I anticipate that in the future it will also be approved to lower cholesterol for a much wider group of people to prevent them from having a heart attack or stroke in the first place.”