The combination therapy – taking one pill instead of three separate ones – makes it easier for people to stick to a treatment plan. Polypills improved “adherence” in patients by up to 33 per cent compared with those who had the usual care for cardiovascular disease prevention, a new study has shown.
A polypill lowered blood pressure and cholesterol, although the overall effects were probably no different to taking them separately.
The idea of putting multiple drugs into a single pill is commonly done in treatments for conditions such as HIV.
But polypills have the potential for more widespread use, including helping to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Such drugs are not yet on the market in the UK but can be bought online.
The review included analysis of 7,047 patients in nine randomised, controlled trials from around the world from 2009 to 2013. It is the largest and most comprehensive data to date.
Professor Shah Ebrahim, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “Cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks and strokes, are the leading cause of death and disability worldwide. In Britain they cause about a third of all deaths – more than 180,000 each year.
“Lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels by introduction of a polypill could simplify treatment, improve adherence and thereby save lives and reduce healthcare costs.”
Dr Mark Huffman, assistant professor in preventive medicine and medicine-cardiology at Northwestern University in Illinois, said: “We know half of the people around the world who have had a heart attack or stroke take zero medicines [prescribed to them] after the incident.
“A single polypill could not only make it easier for patients to take their medications but could also provide the maximal benefit from a single pill.
“I think we can expect different polypills with different doses of medication.”
He said the polypill has the potential to be added to the World Health Organisation’s “model list of essential medicines” as soon as next year, adding: “The WHO has already named the polypill one of the ‘top five best buys’ for preventing chronic diseases globally.”
Dr Huffman said a “wonder drug” containing aspirin, statins and blood pressure medication was already being manufactured in India for as little as five to ten rupees – about 5p-10p – each.
He added: “I would hope we may see a polypill introduced in the US, for instance, within the next two to five years.”