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Tomato-Based Pill Takes on Heart Disease

By Joanna Cosgrove | September 1, 2009

Ateronon inhibits the oxidation of LDL cholesterol to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

U.K.-based Cambridge Theranostics Ltd. (CTL) has encapsulated the antioxidant properties of lycopene, the red, fat-soluble carotenoid found in tomatoes, into a once-a-day supplement formulated to make a difference in lives of an estimated 2.6 million Britons suffering from coronary heart disease, the U.K.'s leading cause of early death.

Ateronon is the product of seven years of research and clinical trials conducted by Cambridge Theranostics, a bio-technology spin-off of Cambridge University, which was originally funded by The British Heart Foundation. The inspiration for the product grew out of researchers' fascination with the tomato's beneficial role in the Mediterranean diet.

Ateronon is a reformulation of a lactolycopene complex originally developed by the food company Nestle, in their search for an easily absorbed, bioavailable form of lycopene. Recognizing the unique patent position of CTL in screening and developing a new treatment for atherosclerosis, Nestle licensed the formula to CTL, but retained a financial interest in the end product.

Though it can be naturally extracted from tomatoes, lycopene, in its raw form is comprised of inherently large crystals that make it difficult for the human body to absorb. CTL researchers identified a way to break down the large lycopene crystals so that the body could easily absorb and benefit from it. In fact, although many proponents believe that tomato consumption is the optimum source of bioavailable lycopene, the researchers behind Ateronon have shown that much higher absorption rates can be achieved via this new formulation.

"Our patented product reduces lipid oxidation activity, and the amount of damage to oxidized lipids already present," commented biologist Dr. Gunter Schmidt, who is CEO of CTL.

Ateronon works by modifying the inflammatory reaction to Chlamyida pneumoniae-bacteria closely linked to atherogenesis. CTL research demonstrated that a catalytic interaction between anti-chlamydia pneumoniae antibodies and low density lipoprotein (LDL) in the bloodstream is the primary cause of LDL oxidation, which leads to plaque build-up and atherosclerosis.

According to the company, Ateronon is the first and only lycopene-based supplement with proven levels of bioavailability for lycopene and proven effectiveness at helping to inhibit the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, a leading cause of plaque build-up in the arteries.

In order to confirm this discovery, Ateronon was subjected to several clinical trials to measure its ability to deliver bioavailable levels of lycopene and the subsequent impact on the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. The results of the trials showed that effective levels of lycopene in the bloodstream are reached after two weeks of daily use. After two months of daily use, Ateronon typically inhibits LDL cholesterol oxidation by more than 90%.

"The volunteers with coronary heart disease who participated in the clinical study used to support our patent application and in several subsequent clinical studies all completed clinical questionnaires and most of them showed an improvement in subjective scores of well-being," said Dr. Schmidt. "What we have done with these small-scale Ateronon studies is confirm the evidence from epidemiological studies that lycopene inhibits lipid oxidation, and show that Ateronon provides a highly effective method of absorbing natural tomato lycopene."

CTL's Ivan Petyaev, a cardiologist with a long research record, has developed a novel assay kit, which measures levels of active atherogenesis by recording levels of antibodies to the Chlamydia pneumoniae bacteria. His assay, named AtheroAbzyme, not only diagnoses the severity of heart disease, but also demonstrates the efficacy of Ateronon in affecting this process.

Ateronon's beneficial prospects have already excited considerable interest among the international research community, and major trials are already underway at Cambridge University and Harvard medical school to see how well it performs in other studies.

CTL also said there is a possibility that other atherosclerotic plaque-based conditions such as dementia and age-related macular degeneration could also benefit from the supplement, though they have not yet explored these possibilities.

"We are very excited about the potential of Ateronon," said Dr. Schmidt. "The research so far has produced extremely encouraging results, and we are confident there is much more to come."

Ateronon was launched in June and began appearing as an over-the-counter product in Boots, Lloys and other high street pharmacies in July, after its mode of action was explained to doctors and other healthcare providers.

Taken once daily, each Ateronon capsule contains 7 mg of patented, highly bioavailable lycopene. A one month supply (30 capsules) costs the equivalent of Ł35 (about $57).

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