Indian breakthrough: ’superpill’ halves heart attack, stroke risks

March 31st, 2009 - 5:46 pm ICT by IANS  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, March 31 (IANS) Indian medical scientists have announced a major breakthrough by developing a six-in-one pill that can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke and save millions of lives across the world.

The breakthrough was reported Monday by Indian-born scientist Salim Yusuf of McMaster University, Canada, at a medical conference in the American city of Orlando and simultaneously announced by the medical journal Lancet.

It was immediately hailed by the international scientific community as an achievement that could revolutionise global healthcare - in both rich and poor countries.

Under a trial funded by Cadila Pharmaceuticals, Ahmedabad, the ’superpill’ or ‘polypill’ was tested on 2,053 Indians aged between 48 and 80 years, who were without heart disease but had one risk factor.

The trials conducted at 50 centres showed that the pill - a combination of three blood-pressure-lowering drugs, cholesterol-busting statin, aspirin, and folic acid - could halve “cardiovascular events” such as heart attacks and strokes even in healthy individuals, the Lancet reported.

“The thought that people might be able to take a single pill to reduce multiple cardiovascular risk factors has generated a lot of excitement. It could revolutionise heart disease prevention as we know it,” Yusuf said.

Yusuf, a graduate of St John’s Medical College, Bangalore, and an award-winning medical scientist, said the drug would be available “within a matter of weeks”.

But Yusuf said a large trial is needed before such a pill can be given to healthy people. “The polypill is a wonderful concept, but there are lots of steps before we put it into practice,” he told a meeting of the American College of Cardiology (ACC).

The study was led by Yusuf, who works at the Population Health Research Institute of McMaster University, and Prem Pais of St John’s Medical College, Bangalore.

The breakthrough was hailed by the international scientific community.

“The study… raises hope that, in conjunction with other global efforts on improving diet and exercise, the polypill could one day substantially reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease in the world,” said Christopher P. Cannon of the Harvard Medical School.

In a comment in the Lancet, Cannon said the polypill had “vast implications” for global health.

“The concept is simple. Several different drugs are available (generically and thus inexpensively) to treat many of the cardiac risk factors. So, combining them in one pill could reduce heart disease by 80 percent.”

“This approach has obvious appeal and vast implications for global health, because heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide,” he wrote.

Some 80 percent of heart disease cases are thought to occur in developing countries.

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