People are much more likely to take preventive medicines if they're combined in one pill, an international study has found. The findings are published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Taking aspirin, cholesterol-lowering and blood pressure-lowering drugs long-term more than halves heart attack and stroke recurrence. However, only about 50 per cent of people with cardiovascular disease in high-income countries take all recommended preventive medications. In low- and middle-income countries, only five to 20 per cent do. This leaves tens of millions of people undertreated.
In the first study to test the impact of a fixed-dose combination pill - called a polypill - in people with cardiovascular disease, 2,004 participants in the UK, Ireland, the Netherlands and India were randomly assigned either the polypill, or their normal combination of medicines.
After an average of 15 months' follow-up, the proportion of participants in the polypill group who were taking medications regularly was a third higher than in the group receiving usual care. The polypill group also had lower blood pressure and cholesterol measurements.
Lead author, Professor Simon Thom, from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, said: "The reality is that large numbers of people who have already suffered heart attacks or strokes either don't receive these medications or get out of the habit of taking them. The findings of this study suggest that providing them in a single pill is a helpful preventive step."
Professor Thom said the new findings dispelled several myths about the polypill. "Despite the use of older medications and fixed doses, the polypill group had improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels simply because they took recommended medications more regularly. Also there were no differences in diet or exercise patterns." He also noted that the trial participants were almost universally eager to adopt the polypill if it were made available.
Co-author Professor Anthony Rodgers of The George Institute for Global Health and The University of Sydney, said: "These results show that polypills are a viable strategy for heart attack and stroke survivors. This is most relevant to the large number of high-risk individuals globally who currently don't take recommended medications long-term.
"While the World Health Organisation and many others have noted the potential benefits and cost savings of such an approach for over a decade, this is the first trial to show these benefits directly."
Most of the patients in the study had already had a heart attack or stroke; the rest were at high risk on the basis of risk factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol and smoking.
The polypills used in the study were developed by Dr Reddy's Ltd, Hyderabad. The late Dr Anji Reddy gave the green light to the development, seeing an opportunity to provide an affordable, convenient treatment package to patients in India and elsewhere.
The study was funded by the EU's Seventh Framework Programme for Research.
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Notes to editors
1. S Thom et al. 'Effects of a fixed-dose combination on medication adherence and risk fators in patients with or at risk of CVD. The UMPIRE randomized clinical trial.' JAMA 2013.
2. In November 2012 the George Institute for Global Health obtained an exclusive global license for the fixed dose combinations used in the UMPIRE trial following a decision by Dr Reddy's Ltd not to proceed with taking the products to market because of uncertainty in regulatory requirements.
3. The study involved the International Centre for Circulatory Health, Imperial College London; The George Institute for Global Health, Hyderabad, India; Centre for Chronic Disease Control, New Delhi; Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Dublin; Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care, Utrecht; Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi, India and The George Institute for Global Health, Sydney, Australia
4. About Imperial College London
Consistently rated amongst the world's best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 14,000 students and 6,000 staff of the highest international quality. Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and business, delivering practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.
Since its foundation in 1907, Imperial's contributions to society have included the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography and the foundations of fibre optics. This commitment to the application of research for the benefit of all continues today, with current focuses including interdisciplinary collaborations to improve global health, tackle climate change, develop sustainable sources of energy and address security challenges.
In 2007, Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust formed the UK's first Academic Health Science Centre. This unique partnership aims to improve the quality of life of patients and populations by taking new discoveries and translating them into new therapies as quickly as possible.
5. About The George Institute for Global Health:
The George Institute for Global Health is improving the lives of millions of people worldwide through innovative health research. Working across a broad health landscape, the Institute conducts clinical, population and health system research aimed at changing health practice and policy worldwide. The Institute has a global network of medical and health experts working together to address the leading causes of death and disability worldwide. Established in 1999 in Australia and affiliated with The University of Sydney, the Institute today also has offices in China, India and the United Kingdom, and is also affiliated with Peking University Health Science Centre, the University of Hyderabad and the University of Oxford.
Website georgeinstitute.org.au Twitter @georgeinstitute
6. About the Centre for Chronic Disease Control
The Centre for Chronic Disease Control is a New-Delhi based not-for-profit research organization of health professionals and social scientists engaged in knowledge generation and knowledge translation for the prevention and control of non-communicable (chronic) diseases in varied settings of developing countries.