Novartis has a new drug that has just been approved by the FDA. It’s called Tekturna. It’s the first new class of hypertensive drugs in 10 years, something well worth celebrating. But it’s “coming out party” has received little medical attention.Why?

It’s not for lack of importance. Tekturna is a first of its kind once-a-day renin blocker.
Hypertension afflicts close to one billion people worldwide, and is uncontrolled in 70%, leading to heart disease, kidney failure and stroke.

In a clinical trial involving 6,400 patients, Tekturna significantly lowered blood pressure for 24 hours and was also effective in combination with other medications. Since the renin-angiotensin system is an essential cause of high blood pressure and heart disease, and the blockers already on the market that interfere with angiotensin-converting enzyme or block the receptor for angiotensin II have been highly successful and life-saving, the need for an effective renin blocker is undisputed.

So now along comes the first drug of its kind, potentially the most powerful drug in the angiotensin axis, and no one pays attention. Is the blood-thirsty zeal of drug company attackers so potent that it overwhelms and obscures all positive reports about a new class of drugs? I’m afraid so. Is it more important to attack Merck over the rare side effect of Vioxx than to champion Novartis for breaking through with a new discovery? I definitely don’t think so.

If we want our drug companies to thrive and spend the billions necessary to break through with a new category of drugs, the least we can do is congratulate them when one succeeds. Those who make an unremitting habit of bashing drug companies about unforeseen side effects could cost them so much money and public embarrassment that it takes the legs out of important projects like the one that led to the birth of Tekturna. In the current climate, it is probably no coincidence that it took 10 years to come up with a new category of blood pressure drugs.

Marc Siegel, MD, is an internist and associate professor of medicine at New York University and the author of False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear