Archive for Tuesday, March 31, 2009

‘Polypill’ may replace handful of heart drugs

March 31, 2009


— It’s been a dream for a decade: a single daily pill combining aspirin, cholesterol medicine and blood pressure drugs — everything people need to prevent heart attacks and strokes in a cheap, generic form.

Skeptics said five medicines rolled into a single pill would mean five times more side effects. Some people would get drugs they don’t need, while others would get too little. One-size-fits-all would turn out to fit very few, they warned.

Now the first big test of the “polypill” has proved them wrong.

The experimental combo pill was as effective as nearly all of its components taken alone, with no greater side effects, a major study found. Taking it could cut a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke roughly in half, the study concludes.

The approach needs far more testing — as well as approval from the Food and Drug Administration, something that could take years — but it could make heart disease prevention much more common and more effective, doctors say.

“Widely applied, this could have profound implications,” said Dr. Robert Harrington, an American College of Cardiology spokesman and chief of Duke University’s heart research institute. “President Obama is trying to offer the greatest care to the greatest number. This very much fits in with that.”

The polypill also has big psychological advantages, said Dr. James Stein of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“If you take any medicines, you know that every pill you see in your hand makes you feel five years older. Patients really object to pill burden” and respond by skipping doses, he said.

No price for the polypill has been disclosed, but its generic components cost only a total of $17 a month now and doctors expect the combo would sell for far less.

The study was led by Dr. Salim Yusuf of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and Dr. Prem Pais of St. John’s Medical College in Bangalore, India. The findings were presented Monday at the cardiology college’s conference in Florida and published online by the British medical journal Lancet.

The study tested the Polycap, an experimental combo formulated by Cadila Pharmaceuticals of Ahmedabad, India. It contains low doses of three blood pressure medicines (atenolol, ramipril and the “water pill” thiazide), plus the generic version of the cholesterol-lowering statin drug Zocor, and a baby aspirin (100 milligrams).


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