Inexpensive polypills may add years for heart patients

September / October 2011 | Volume 10, Issue 5

Handfull of small pink and cream colored pills on black background
Photo courtesy of
Imperial College London

For just pennies a dose, combination drugs known as "polypills" may add two years to the life expectancy of people at risk of heart disease in developing countries. A polypill is a combination drug containing multiple active ingredients, usually four or more.

Fogarty grantee Dr. Thomas A. Gaziano and his colleagues studied the cost-effectiveness of two different polypills in six low- and middle-income regions. (Read more about his work reducing the guesswork and cost of rating heart disease.)

For primary prevention, they modeled the impact of a combination of aspirin, a calcium-channel blocker, an angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibitor and a statin. For secondary prevention, they assessed the same combination of drugs but with a beta blocker instead of the calcium-channel blocker.

They calculated these approaches could result in a two-year gain in life expectancy. In addition, regimens of aspirin, two blood-pressure drugs and a statin could halve the risk of death from cardiovascular disease in high-risk patients.

The results are extremely significant for developing countries, which bear 80 percent of the cardiovascular disease burden. Gaziano concluded that this approach is cost-effective - according to WHO recommendations - and that developing countries should encourage the use of inexpensive polypills for both primary and secondary prevention.

The broad concept of such a therapy for cardiovascular disease has existed for decades. A 2003 article in the British Medical Journal coined the term polypill and proposed the concept of combining six medications that have long been used to treat cardiovascular disease.

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