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One Size Fits All? New Pill Combines Heart Drugs

If you could take five heart medications in one cheap pill to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke without risking more side effects, wouldn't you?

That's what a pharmaceutical company in India is hoping.

The pill contains aspirin to prevent blood clots that can cause heart attacks, a statin to lower cholesterol, and three blood pressure medications.

The single capsule, taken daily by people at risk of heart disease, could cut their risk about as much as taking each pill taken separately, according to a study presented at the American College of Cardiology meeting in Orlando this week.

An All-In-One Way To Reduce Risk

Dr. Salim Yusuf, who headed the study, says that means the polypill could reduce the risk of heart disease by 60 percent and strokes by 50 percent in this population.

The real appeal, in both the developing world and the modern medical system in the U.S., may be increased compliance.

It's a lot easier to remember to take one pill than five pills.

And since all five components are generic drugs, if the drug comes to market, it's not likely to be very expensive, says Christopher Cannon, head of the cardiovascular division at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston in a commentary published along with the study in The Lancet.

However, the drawback in combining medications into one pill may be that everyone gets the same dose of each ingredient, whether it's needed or not.

Polypill's Initial Success Merits Further Study

Researchers from McMaster University in Canada, St. John's Research Institute in Banagalore, India, and several other institutions tested the polypill and various combinations of its separate components on 2,000 men and women in India at risk of heart disease because of high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes or a history of smoking.

After three months, the researchers looked for changes in blood pressure and various blood fats such as cholesterol. The polypill proved as effective as taking three separate blood pressure medications. It lowered lipids 25 percent, a few percentage points less than a statin alone. Side effects were no more than if each drug had been taken separately.

The study was funded by Cadila Pharmaceuticals in Ahmedabad, India.

The polypill is not approved for use in the U.S.

Cardiologists say the positive results of the preliminary trial warrant a bigger and longer trial to look for long-term side effects.

"We have to see if it works as advertised in reducing cardiovascular risk over the simpler approach of simply just treating one risk factor at a time," says cardiologist and health policy expert Mark Hlatky of Stanford University.

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