The inventors of a magic-bullet pill which is said to eliminate most heart attacks and strokes have opened negotiations with the Government on producing the treatment, which would be given to everyone over 55.
Roger Boyle, the Government's heart tsar, chaired a meeting attended by senior members of the health department, at which Professors Nick Wald and Malcolm Law of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine in London set out their plans.
Dr Boyle said there were "clear attractions" to the idea but there were also problems. "There are significant clinical, practical and financial implications that need to be explored further," he said.
Professors Wald and Law have also had discussions with the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Products Agency over licensing requirements for the treatment, known as the "polypill". The idea was described in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in June. The journal called it a "step of genius" and said the papers were "perhaps the most important [it had published] in 50 years".
The polypill would be a combination of six medicines to be taken once a day which, evidence suggests, would prevent 80 per cent of heart attacks and strokes. It would contain aspirin to prevent blood clots, a statin to lower cholesterol, three blood pressure-lowering agents at half the standard dose and folic acid to reduce homocysteine, which causes furring of the arteries. The drugs have been used for decades and have few side-effects. But the proposal has divided doctors. Some specialists say it could undermine the need for lifestyle changes.
Professor Wald said of the health department meeting: "There was a welcoming and positive response to our proposals but it was cautious, too. The issue was how to make it happen." The regulators may insist on a large trial comparing the polypill with its individual constituents taken separately, which would take at least six years and be very costly. But they might accept that the effects of the pill's constituents are known and that only a short study is needed. Professor Wald said he was talking to commercial groups about producing the polypill.
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