PHARMACY

Generic drug combination cuts heart attack, stroke risk, study finds

BY Alaric DeArment

OAKLAND, Calif. Combining two cheap generic drugs prevented more than 1,000 heart attacks and strokes, according to a study by Kaiser Permanente.

According to the study, published in The American Journal of Managed Care, 68,560 patients with diabetes or heart disease received daily 40 mg doses of the cholesterol-lowering drug lovastatin and 20 mg of the blood pressure-lowering drug lisinopril daily for three years. The combination of the drugs lowered their risk of hospitalization due to heart attack or stroke after two years by more than 60%, the study found.

It is also assumed that 75% of study participants were also taking aspirin, though aspirin was not included in the study because it is an OTC drug, and its use could not be measured through pharmacy records.

“Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States, and 23 million Americans have diabetes,” Kaiser Permanente Care Management Institute diabetes clinical lead and lead study author R. James Dudl said in a statement. “This is a proven program that can be applied in many settings to reduce heart attacks and strokes, and at the same time decrease the cost of care for those events.”

The study followed 170,024 Kaiser Permanente members in California with heart disease or diabetes, dividing them into three groups: a high-exposure group of 21,292 who took the two drugs more than half of the time and 2004 and 2005 based in prescription refill habits; a low-exposure group of 47,268 who took them less than half the time; and a group of 101,464 people who didn’t take the drugs. Among the whole study population, there were 21 heart attacks per 1,000 people in 2006, but among the patients who took the drugs, there were 545 to 726 fewer heart attacks than among those who did not take the drugs.

Lovastatin is the generic version of Merck & Co.’s Mevacor, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1987. Lisinopril is the generic version of Merck’s Prinivil, approved the same year.

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PHARMACY

CDC launches second annual Get Smart About Antibiotics Week

BY Alaric DeArment

WASHINGTON Taking antibiotics when not needed threatens both individuals and the public, and government officials have enlisted pharmacists to promote smart use of antibacterial medicines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has launched its second annual Get Smart About Antibiotics Week, which takes place from Monday, Oct. 5, through Friday, Oct. 9. The CDC said pharmacists around the country have joined the campaign to educate patients on when to use and when not to use antibiotics.

Antibiotics are designed to treat bacterial infections, but many patients use them to treat colds and flus, which result from viral infections, and many physicians feel pressure from patients or parents to prescribe antibiotics, especially during the flu season. Not only will antibiotics not work on these infections, but patients taking them place themselves at risk of contracting bacterial infections resistant to antibiotics.

“We are very pleased to have pharmacists as partners in this important effort,” Get Smart program medical director Lauri Hicks said in a statement. “They are extremely knowledgeable and can make a big difference in public health.”

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FDA approves Schering-Plough’s skin cancer treatment

BY Alaric DeArment

GAITHERSBURG, Md. A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee has recommended approval of a biotech drug to treat skin cancer.

The FDA’s Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee voted six-to-four Monday to recommend approval for Schering-Plough Corp.’s Pegintron (pegylated interferon alfa-2b) as an adjuvant treatment for stage 3 malignant melanoma. The drug, a long-acting form of the protein interferon alfa-2b is administered weekly by self-injection and already approved as treatment for hepatitis C.

“Treating malignant melanoma remains a challenge given the limited treatment options that are currently available,” University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine professor and Division of Medical Oncology chief John Kirkwood said in a statement. “Today’s positive recommendation of pegylated interferon alfa-2b by the committee represents an important step toward a potential new option in the treatment of stage 3 malignant melanoma, especially as the incidence of the disease continues to increase.”

FDA advisory committees’ recommendations do not mandate approval of a drug, but the agency weighs them when considering whether to grant final approval.

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