Heart failure is a debilitating and potentially life threating condition affecting more than 20 million people worldwide . The condition is a result of the heart not being able to pump enough blood around the body. Although the term “failure” might suggest that the heart has stopped working entirely, this is not the case—heart failure occurs when the heart muscle responsible for the pumping action weakens over time or becomes too stiff, causing fluid to build up in the lungs and throughout the tissues, leading to irreparable damage to major organs.
Heart failure has two distinct sub-types: acute and chronic. Chronic heart failure (CHF) is a persistent and progressive condition that worsens slowly over time. CHF is often punctuated by acute heart failure (AHF) episodes where symptoms worsen rapidly resulting in the need for hospitalization. AHF can also develop in people without a history of CHF.
As an AHF episode approaches, patients become severely breathless and incapacitated, and rapidly gain weight due to fluid build-up in the lungs and around the body. This is often compared to the sensation of drowning. Every AHF episode results in worsening health and damage to vital organs, decreasing the chance of a patient surviving another episode. 20 to 30% of patients die within 1 year after experiencing an AHF episode.
Each year around 3.5 million AHF episodes happen in the US and EU alone and this is expected to increase further as the population ages. The World Health Organization predicts that between 2000 and 2050, the proportion of the world's population over 60 years will double from about 11% to 22%, with the number of people in this age group increasing from 605 million to two billion during this time period. Yet, despite these statistics, current AHF therapies are still not providing meaningful improvements in longer-term patient outcomes. At present, commonly used medicines only treat the immediate symptoms, meaning AHF is still managed much in the same way as it was in the 1970s.
Research into new investigational therapies has increased understanding of the underlying mechanisms of AHF however, leading to a shift in focus for disease management, including the importance of stopping the downward spiral of organ damage which happens during an AHF episode. Measuring specific biomarker levels demonstrates how cells in vital organs are damaged or die during an AHF episode, correlating with poor outcomes seen in patients.
With a rapidly rising number of AHF cases leading to a fast-growing public health burden, there is an urgent need for new treatments that help increase patients’ life expectancy by protecting vital organs against life-threatening damage during an AHF episode.