AstraZeneca has been boosted by the news that US regulators have approved its application to market its blockbuster lipid-lowerer Crestor to treat artherosclerosis, the first cholesterol-lowerer to get the nod for the disease.

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved Crestor (rosuvatatin) as adjunctive therapy to diet to slow the progression of atherosclerosis with elevated cholesterol, which the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker said gives its drug "an important differentiator from competitors in the cholesterol-lowering marketplace". It is particularly welcome news coming as it does just days after results from a large-scale clinical trial with Crestor, called CORONA, dashed hopes that the drug would gain a valuable new competitive edge by showing effectiveness in preventing mortality and morbidity in heart failure patients.

The submission package to the FDA was based largely on the results of a pivotal study called METEOR which measured the effects of Crestor on plaque build-up in the arteries using carotid intima-media thickness and demonstrated a slowing of progression of atherosclerosis in people with early signs of the disease, elevated low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and low cardiovascular risk, taking Crestor 40mg. METEOR study is part of AstraZeneca’s GALAXY programme, designed to investigate the impact of the drug on cardiovascular risk reduction and to date, it has recruited more than 69,000 subjects.

Not everybody shared the firm's delight, however, and Citigroup analyst Kevin Wilson issued a research note saying that "we are not optimistic that the atherosclerosis claim will be sufficient to drive significant Crestor market share gains". The importance of the drug to AstraZeneca is considerable and third-quarter revenues leapt 25% to $691 million, a vital earner as the firm suffers a slowdown in sales to the generic threat to drugs such as the blood pressure treatment Toprol XL (metoprolol).