This Experimental Drug Could Help Millions With High Blood Pressure

a patient has their blood pressure checked

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Find out what it does and when it could become available to the public.

If you’re struggling to manage your blood pressure, new research indicates good news could be on the horizon.

A clinical trial found that patients taking an experimental drug called baxdrostat substantially reduced their blood pressure, according to a study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers hope the new medication will be able to treat people with resistant hypertension, a form of high blood pressure that’s associated with increased risk of stroke and heart attacks — and doesn’t respond to medication currently available on the market.

How does baxdrostat work?

It’s estimated 10 million people in the U.S. have resistant high blood pressure, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. People with this condition aren’t helped by existing drugs because their hypertension is caused primarily by a hormone called aldosterone, which regulates how much salt is retained in the body. High levels of sodium causes water retention, which increases your total blood volume and ultimately leads to higher blood pressure.

Scientists have struggled to develop a treatment that directly targets aldosterone because the chemical is so similar to cortisol, an essential hormone, as explained to NBC by Morris Brown, Ph.D., the co-author of the study and a professor of endocrine hypertension at the Queen Mary University of London. But baxdrostat gets around that by blocking an enzyme needed to produce aldosterone — effectively lowering the amount of the chemical causing hypertension in these patients.

What happened in the clinical trial?

More than 270 people in the U.S. were recruited for a phase 2 clinical trial of the drug. To qualify, all patients had to be taking at least three hypertension medications and have blood pressure that measured at or above 130/80 mm Hg. (130/80 is considered high, while less than 120/80 falls in the normal range.) 

Participants received either a placebo or three different dosages of baxdrostat, and they were instructed to take it daily. Those who received the highest dose of the oral medication saw their systolic blood pressure drop by a whopping 20 points. Patients receiving the second strongest form of the drug saw a 17.5-point reduction, and those given the weakest dose saw a 12-point drop. 

The placebo group also lowered their blood pressure by 9.4 points. But Dr. Brown believes that enrolling in the study probably pushed them to be a little better at taking all of their other medications as prescribed, he tells NBC.

There is currently another drug, spironolactone, which similarly lowers aldosterone, but it has some side effects. So far, those taking baxdrostat didn’t seem to have any symptoms, except for dizziness in a few patients and a rise in potassium in two patients.

When will baxdrostat be available?

There’s no guarantee the drug will win FDA approval, but researchers are planning to do a phase 3 clinical trial early next year, which could take 12 to 18 months, Dr. Brown told Prevention.

“Realistically, the earliest this drug could get licensing would be 2024,” he says.