It seems that Novartis’ already multi-billion-dollar selling blood-pressure drug Diovan is also effective in cutting the amount of C-reactive protein - an inflammation marker which is deemed a risk factor for heart attack and stroke - in the body.

According to results of the large-scale Val-MARC (Valsartan-Managing blood pressure Aggressively and evaluating Reductions in hsCRP) trial, published online in the journal Hypertension, Diovan (valsartan) reduced the level of high-sensitivity hsCRP independently of its blood pressure lowering action. This provides a significant benefit to patients, as the higher the levels of hsCRP in the body, the higher the risk of a cardiovascular event occurring.

“Increased hsCRP levels are commonly found in those patients at increased risk for cardiovascular events,” explained lead study investigator Dr Paul Ridker, Eugene Braunwald Professor of Medicine at the Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. “Until now, statins were among only a few medicines known to lower hsCRP. This study showed that treating high blood pressure with valsartan can also reduce levels of this important inflammatory marker.”

Val-MARC - a prospective, randomized, blinded-endpoint, open-label, community-based study - was conducted at 384 sites in the US and was designed to assess the effect of Diovan versus Co-Diovan on hsCRP levels in 1,668 patients with moderate-to-severe hypertension.

The results revealed a median change in hsCRP of -0.12mg/L after six weeks in patients taking Diovan alone versus +0.05mg/L in the Co-Diovan arm, representing a difference of 13.3% (p<0.001). Furthermore, as no relationship was observed between the change in hsCRP levels and blood pressure reductions, the researchers concluded that the agent’s hsCRP-lowering effect is separate from its blood pressure lowering capabilities.

This latest evaluation is part of a giant clinical trials program for Diovan that Novartis is conducting under a strategy to widen the drug’s market opportunity as well as extend its patent armour, which is set to crumble in March 2012. With sales of $3.7 billion in 2005, Diovan is a key drug in the company’s portfolio.