Researchers at Otago University have discovered that a drug used to treat acute heart disease may not work for many Maori and Pacific Island people.
The study of 180 heart disease patients shows the drug streptokinaise is 2.8 times less effective in communities with high Maori and Pacific Island populations, because these communities have higher rates of rheumatic fever.
Garry Nixon from the Dunedin School of Medicine says people who have had rheumatic fever produce antibodies which attack the drug and prevent it working.
Dr Nixon says alternative heart drugs should be used for Maori and Pacific Islanders to guard against this immunity but uptake has been slow because they are more expensive.
He says the study is a timely reminder that doctors should be careful about applying the results of drug trials on Caucasians to other ethnic groups.
The National Heart Foundation's medical director, Professor Norman Sharpe, says there need to be more trials on different groups to make sure drugs are effective for everyone.