New drug could reduce prescription prices for heart patients

Heart patients who need to take a prescribed daily regimen of medicine to prevent blood clots might find lower prescription prices in an area that has been monopolized for years.

Dr. Shereif Rezkalla, an interventional cardiologist at Marshfield Clinic, recently took part in a worldwide, independent study that examined the effectiveness of a new drug, Prasugrel, which prevents platelets in the blood from sticking together.

The study found the medicine to be as effective as Plavix, the only similar drug on the market.

Rezkalla said Prasugrel's potency is important, but a major bonus is that it should help force down the price of Plavix, through competition for market share.

Plavix costs about $155 for 30 pills for a person without insurance.

"I know many patients of mine who needed (Plavix) and couldn't take it because of their financial budget," Rezkalla said. "It just became very expensive, and some patients truly have to pick between medications and their regular food."

Rezkalla said Prasugrel won't be cheap, particularly because the study found that it appears to be slightly more effective. Seven percent of patients taking Prasugrel had nonfatal heart attacks, compared to 9.1 percent taking Plavix.

Plavix is prescribed daily, Rezkalla said, but many patients struggle to afford it. While he's excited about the medical breakthrough, he said it's more important for patients if Prasugrel can lead to lower costs.

"I get more excited when I know to my patient it will be less of a burden on him financially," he said. "It's a problem I don't see once in a while or occasionally, but almost every day."

Both medicines are used to prevent clots that can lead to heart attacks or strokes and are necessary in patients undergoing angioplasty, Rezkalla said.

A small amount of the population is resistant to Plavix, making Prasugrel useful as another tool to combat clotting. Rezkalla said there are no firm data that estimate the number of people who are resistant to Plavix.

The most serious side effect, because of its potency, is that people who take Prasugrel are more prone to bleeding, Rezkalla said. Older people and those with a low body weight should avoid taking it.

The Federal Drug Administration recently approved the medicine and Rezkalla said Prasugrel, which he administered to patients at Saint Joseph's during the study, should be available within the next month. It will be marketed as Effient.

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