All over 50s 'should be offered polypill': Four-in-one drug could extend life by 11 years and prevent thousands of strokes and heart attacks

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UPDATED:

01:06 GMT, 19 July 2012

Over-50s saw their blood pressure fell by 12 per cent after taking the pill daily for three months

Over-50s saw their blood pressure fell by 12 per cent after taking the pill daily for three months

A four-in-one pill to slash the risk of heart disease should be made available for all over-50s, a leading doctor said yesterday.

Professor Sir Nicholas Wald claimed that if just half of those over 50 took the ‘polypill’, which contains a cholesterol-busting statin and a trio of blood pressure drugs, then almost 100,000 heart attacks and strokes would be prevented each year.

Sir Nicholas, who developed antenatal screening for Down’s syndrome and linked passive smoking with lung cancer, said the drug could be approved for use over the counter in the UK in as little as a year and cost less than 1 a day. ‘The net benefits are too large to ignore,’ he added.

The professor, of Queen Mary, University of London, made the recommendation after a study showed taking the tablet every day for 12 weeks gave those in their fifties, sixties and seventies the blood pressure and cholesterol levels of twentysomethings.

Researchers gave the polypill to 84 men and women aged between 51 and 77.

They were chosen on the basis of age alone, and not because tests showed they were at a particularly high risk of heart problems.

Professor Sir Nicholas Wald said the polypill would cost less than 1 a day

Professor Sir Nicholas Wald said the polypill would cost less than 1 a day

After taking the tablet for three
months, their blood pressure fell by an average of 12 per cent and ‘bad
cholesterol’ by 39 per cent, the journal PLoS ONE reports.

This gave the
participants readings more usually seen in someone decades younger.

It is estimated that if everyone over 50 took the tablet, two in three heart attacks and strokes could be prevented.

graphic polypills

Sir
Nicholas – a polypill patent-holder – would like the drugs to be
prescribed based on age alone.

Rather than going to a GP’s surgery for a
series of tests, people would speak to their pharmacist who would ask
their age and what medication they are taking before giving them the
drug.

Despite concerns that
this would lead to many apparently healthy people taking powerful
medication, he said: ‘It is specifically designed for healthy people to
keep them healthy.

'It is like taking anti-malarials if you are going to
Africa – you take them in order to reduce your chance of contracting
the disease.’

Dr David
Wald, Sir Nicholas’s son and the study’s lead researcher, added: ‘This
has the potential to have a massive impact in reducing a person’s risk
of a heart attack or stroke.

'It is a pill to prevent people from
becoming patients and from dying from two of the most common causes of
death in the world.’

The
polypill tested by the team, developed by Indian firm Cipla, contains
low doses of three blood pressure drugs: amlodipine, losartan and
hydrochlorothiazide.

It also contains simvastatin, one of the most
widely-used statins. Others in development around the world also include
aspirin and folic acid.

Polypill advocates say it is easier to remember one tablet than several drugs to be taken at different times.

But
Duncan Dymond, a consultant cardiologist at St Bartholomew’s Hospital
in central London, described mass prescription based on age alone as
‘absolutely ridiculous’.

‘When
you spray crops, you hope that some of the crops you hit are actually
going to need dusting, and accept the fact that you are going to miss
some of the crops that will need dusting – and also spray crops that are
perfectly healthy. And that is what we will do with this,’ he said.

Natasha
Stewart, of the British Heart Foundation, described the research as
encouraging, but warned: ‘Medicines are not a substitute for living a
healthy lifestyle.’