NPR: a single pill made of five drugs, each of which is used to combat heart disease. The idea is to be both convenient and effective, although more work needs to be done, as NPR's Joanne Silberner reports.
JOANNE SILBERNER: The idea of combining these five drugs into a single pill has been around for a long time, says Yusuf Salim of McMaster University in Canada. He set out to develop a single medication called a polypill. And so far, things are looking good. The polypill lowered cholesterol almost as much as the statin alone. It lowered blood pressure like the blood pressure medications and improved other risk factors as well.
YUSUF SALIM: When we put all the things together, we estimated that the polypill will likely reduce heart disease by about 60 percent and strokes by 50 percent.
SILBERNER: Salim wanted to give the drug to people with just one or two risk factors for heart disease: diabetes or high blood pressure or obesity or smoking or cholesterol. But he worried about the safety of drugs within the combination that people may not need. There might be someone with high cholesterol, for example, but normal blood pressure.
SALIM: If you take people with normal blood pressure and give them three blood pressure-lowering drugs, will their blood pressures fall (unintelligible), and will they all collapse?
SILBERNER: They didn't. Then there's the problem that people often discontinue taking drugs when they encounter side effects.
SALIM: So are the rates of discontinuation five times as worse in people who take the polypill with five drugs compared to somebody who only takes one drug?
SILBERNER: Cardiologist Christopher Cannon of Brigham and Women's Hospital says just like with the individual drugs, people who take the polypill need to be monitored for serious side effects.
CHRISTOPHER CANNON: So you have to have the follow-up blood work to check the kidneys and check the liver, test for the statin.
SILBERNER: Cannon wants to see a longer study. This one was only three months.
CANNON: And ideally one to show that it, in fact, does lower the risk of heart attack. It's been calculated that it would likely do that, but to do a large study to really prove that would make this ready for prime time.
SILBERNER: Joanne Silberner, NPR News.
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