Big study supports cheap combo pill to lower heart risks

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McMaster University

This November 2020 photo provided by McMaster University shows 75mg aspirin pills, left, and Polycaps, pills from India-based Cadila Pharmaceuticals that contains one cholesterol and three blood pressure medicines, used in the International Polycap Study 3 (TIPS-3). On Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, researchers say the cheap, daily pill taken with low-dose aspirin can cut the risk of heart attacks, strokes and heart-related deaths by nearly one third. (Georgia Kirkos/McMaster University via AP)

A daily pill combining four cholesterol and blood pressure medicines taken with low-dose aspirin cut the risk of heart attacks, strokes and heart-related deaths by nearly one third in a large international study that’s expected to lead to wider use of this “polypill” approach.

For more than a decade, doctors have been testing whether the cheap, all-in-one combo pills could make it easier to prevent heart disease, the top killer worldwide. Friday’s results show their value — and not just for poor nations.

“It’s for all sensible countries,” said Dr. Salim Yusuf of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. “If the rich countries don’t want the benefit, that’s their prerogative.”

He helped lead the study and gave results at an American Heart Association conference. They also were published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

At least half a dozen companies sell polypills outside the United States, including several in Europe, but they’re not widely used or marketed. Doctors have been reluctant partly because no big, international studies have shown they can lower heart attacks and deaths — not just risk factors such as high blood pressure.

“I think this will change with our results,” Yusuf said.

One independent expert agreed.

The study is very important and "the best data we have so far” on polypills, said Dr. Eugene Yang, a University of Washington heart specialist who leads a heart disease prevention panel for the American College of Cardiology.