Risks and potential in the polypill

The polypill revolution can mean enormous growth for the pharmacy regimen that has developed in the U.S. over the last 20 years, at a price much of the world can afford. The help it gives branded drug companies in extending patents is nothing compared to what it can do for the world's health care budget, and my life expectancy.

The first generic polypill, for heart trouble, has folks very excited.

Please note an important, and under-reported, word in the above sentence. Generic.

Polypills are not new.

Caduet is a polypill, a combination of two patented medicines, Norvasc and Lipitor. By combining Norvasc, whose patent has expired, with Lipitor, whose patent has not, Pfizer gets a new drug with patent protection to 2018. (It was advertised to doctors with mugs like this.)

The new pill, called Polycap by its maker, Cadila Pharmaceuticals (here that trademark is held by a maker of fence edgings) combines five generic medicines -- aspirin, simvastatatin, and three hypertension drugs -- a beta blocker, an ACE inhibitor, and a diuretic.

The news is a study showing that the drugs in question don't interfere with one another. The hope is that everyone over 50, worldwide, will be able to affordably pop one of these each day and cut their risk of heart attack and stroke by 50%.

I have a stake in this, because my family history leads me susceptible to such sudden death. Without correction my cholesterol is in the 300s. Even with correction, my mom's blood pressure can get to 200/150. (She's 86 and still with us.)

So I've been on a mono-pill regimen for this entire decade. Each morning I take a polypill combining an ACE Inhibitor and calcium channel-blocker (both patented), and some time-release niacin (non-drug quality). In the evenings I take another niacin, generic simvastatin, a baby aspirin, and generic Zyrtec (to offset a side-effect of the morning's heart pill).

That's a lot of pills for someone who isn't sick. And sometimes I screw up, usually by taking the blood pressure pill at night, when I don't need it, rather than in the morning, when I do.

Now what if my dear wife, who takes no pills, should lose her job, or lose her life and hence her insurance coverage? Even a full-time job, should I get one, wouldn't help, because this is a "pre-existing condition." Pharmacychecker says the blood pressure pill alone would cost me over $100/month.

A generic polypill means better compliance, and much lower costs. It takes my regimen and offers it to people all around the world. For generic drug-makers this could be a huge market.

Advanced markets like the U.S. might pioneer a whole host of polypills, combining a variety of generics and strengths. Cadila sees its Polycap as a prophylactic for nearly everyone over 50.

The polypill revolution can mean enormous growth for the pharmacy regimen that has developed in the U.S. over the last 20 years, at a price much of the world can afford.

The help it gives branded drug companies in extending patents is nothing compared to what it can do for the world's health care budget, and my life expectancy.

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