A new trial in India has shown that the so-called “polypill” to guard against stroke and heart attack in older people has beneficial results.
The concept of a polypill for everyone over 55 to cut heart disease by up to 80% was mooted over five years ago, but slow progress has been made since.
But critics of pill-popping as a cure for disease say the problems of high blood pressure and cholesterol should be tackled with diet and exercise.
The polypill used in the latest study, published in the medical journal The Lancet, combines five active pharmacological ingredients widely available separately – aspirin, a statin to lower cholesterol and three blood pressure-lowering drugs – as well as folic acid to reduce homocysteine.
Trials were carried out on 2,053 healthy individuals free of cardiovascular disease, but with a risk factor such as high blood pressure or a long-term smoker, showed combining the drugs into one tablet delivered a similar effect to each drug separately.
Reductions were seen in both blood pressure and cholesterol without any major side effects.
The researchers believe that the combined action of all the components in their “Polycap” capsule made by Cadila Pharmaceuticals, could potentially halve strokes and heart attacks in average, middle-aged people.
The study, led by Dr Salim Yusuf, from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, took in people at 50 centres across India.
A UK team led by Professor Simon Thom of Imperial College London is testing another polypill to see whether it does cut death rates.
They have been testing a four-in-one polypill called the Red Heart Pill, with the backing of the Wellcome Trust and the British Heart Foundation, which could cost as little as 15 euros per person per year.
Professor Thom said it would be at least five years before there was enough data to convince drug regulators to approve a polypill.
“Mounting evidence shows the polypill does exactly what it should, but no more, whereas exercise has wide reaching effects on health and wellbeing. So a polypill is an addition rather than a replacement for lifestyle interventions.”