Many pharmaceutical companies have made billions of dollars with blockbuster drugs used for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases. Among these drugs are statins and other cholesterol-lowering drugs. However, it seems that the profitable days are over. The therapeutic area of cardiovascular medicine seems to be less lucrative nowadays, what with many of the bestselling drugs going off-patent. The market is getting flooded with cheaper generic versions of the said drugs.
Pfizer is one of the pharma giants that feels that cardiovascular drugs are no longer profitable. According to an internal Pfizer memo obtained somehow by Forbes, the company has decided to focus the development of new drugs (and therefore R& D spending) on therapeutic areas which are considered to be potentially lucrative. These high priority areas are cancer, diabetes, pain killers, and neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease but do not include cardiovascular medicine.
Pfizer is one of the companies who are suffering from drug patents running out. Its anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor (atorvastatin), said to be the world’s bestselling drug, will lose its patent in about two years’ time (2011). The company has also lost the patent of another bestseller, Norvasc (amlodipine) in 2007. Other companies have similar problems. The blockbuster drugs whose patents are about to expire are Risperdal (Johnson & Johnson’s), Seroquel (Astra Zeneca), Lamictal (GSK), and Avandia (GSK).
The last two years witnessed a lot of safety issues in the pharmaceutical industry. It has not recovered yet from the Vioxx (rofecoxib) debacle and had to face the safety problems of Avandia (rosiglitazone) and the drug-eluting stents (DES), the disappointment over ENHANCE and ezetimibe, and the failure of the HIV vaccine.
In the field of cardiovascular medicine, the use of surrogate markers such as LDL- and HDL- cholesterol levels is being question.
So far, biomarker and stem cell research haven’t delivered any “miracle” diagnostics and treatments that everyone was hoping for. It will probably take years, even decades before biotechnology can produce something that will “rock” the medical world although several early phase clinical trials are planned or ongoing. In the current financial crisis, it is no wonder that pharma companies are becoming more cautious where they put their money.
Where does that leave cardiovascular patients? I think there is a wide range of drugs out there indicated for cardiovascular health. The main focus of the health care industry should not be pharmacological therapy but prevention and treatment through lifestyle change strategies. Practical ways where we can improve cardiovascular health without the aid of drugs and pharmaceutical companies are:
- Wellness and fitness in the workplace.
- Better nutrition and fitness in schools.
- Legislation regulating smoking.
- Better access to health care.
- Increased health awareness and education.
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