It's a Drug Breakthrough — and Already in Stores!

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When the staff at one of those stuffy medical journals breaks the embargo on one of their articles, you know they're onto something really unusual. And so on Wednesday, The New England Journal of Medicine broke the news that a widely available prescription drug has been found to drastically reduce deaths at the hands of America's number one killer — heart disease. In a rush to make the findings available to doctors, the journal preempted a report scheduled to run in January by posting the findings on its web site. The report, based on a large-scale study by Canadian researchers, says the blood pressure-lowering drug Ramipril, which has been available in America since 1991, can lower the risk of heart attack, stroke or death by up to 25 percent among people diagnosed with heart disease.

The widespread excitement over the findings stems in part from the drug's existing availability, which will enable the medical community to make it immediately accessible to heart disease patients. The report indicates that the drug could save tens of thousands of lives in the U.S. each year, and half a million worldwide. TIME medical correspondent Dr. Ian Smith says the findings are in line with the medical industry's drastic improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease over the past decade. Particularly, says Smith, "in the past three years there has been a large push in technological advances that enable doctors to detect heart disease sooner, and thus make it more treatable." He also noted that these advances make new medications such as Ramipril more effective, as the drugs can now be used earlier in the progression of the disease.