With three medicines for high blood pressure and another one to lower cholesterol – what if you could just take one pill? A new all-in-one medication may let you do just that.
The "polypill," worked just as well to prevent and treat elevated blood pressure and high cholesterol, according to a new study.
The experimental pill could be a game changer for lower-income patients.
“We have made a lot of progress in preventing and treating cardiovascular disease but that progress hasn’t reached everybody,” said Dr. Daniel Muñoz, an assistant professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in an interview with ABC News. Munoz was involved in the study testing the pill conducted by researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Franklin Primary Health Center.
If the benefits seen in this study continue, the researchers predict that the polypill would lead to a nearly 25% reduction in the number of new cardiovascular events in the lower-income population -- which is particularly at risk.
Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death in the United States, especially in minorities and those with low socio-economic status. Two major contributors to cardiovascular disease are high blood pressure and high cholesterol. 75 million American adults have high blood pressure and nearly 29 million American adults have elevated cholesterol according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In an interview with ABC News, Dr. James De Lemos, a professor of medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern, said “We have evidence that these polypills create meaningful patient outcomes.”
He described polypills as low-cost medications containing “low dosages of medications that have very good side effect profiles and don’t require lab monitoring.” De Lemos was not involved in the study.
The study polypill was formulated to include four low-dose medications that are already standard treatments for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The pill includes generic formulations of Lipitor, Norvasc, Cozaar and HydroDiuril. The combination pill -- four medicines in one -- was manufactured at the low cost of $26 per month, per person. What’s more, patients would only have to take one pill instead of four, making it easier to stay on track with taking the medicine.
People in the trial were treated with either the polypill or with traditional medications. After the trial was over, systolic blood pressure (the top number) decreased by nine points in the polypill group, whereas it only went down two points in the standard treatment group. LDL cholesterol level (“bad cholesterol”) decreased by 15 mg/dL in the polypill group, while the comparison group went down by just 4 mg/dL.
Only 1% of patients had side effects: muscle pain, light-headedness or low blood pressure.
Another recent study in Iran showed that a different polypill led to prevention of major cardiovascular events.
“Fundamentally, we need to better understand what works and doesn’t work in these settings so that we can improve outcomes for our fellow citizens who may be the most vulnerable. ... In this era of precision medicine and individualized therapies and care, an approach like the polypill could be labeled as a one-size-fits-all approach," Muñoz explained.
"We think that a population-based approach like the polypill can be used together with individualized therapy. It doesn’t have to be either or,” he added.
The pills aren’t available yet. Further work is needed to get approval for polypills and for optimizing treatment for underserved Americans.
De Lemos imagines that both of the recent studies on polypills “should give momentum to develop these products and get them used.”
“That would be our hope," he added.
Tulsie N. Patel, M.D., is a chief resident in psychiatry from the University of Texas Southwestern in Dallas, Texas, working with the ABC News Medical Unit.