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Save money on cholesterol drugs with new generic statins

June 22, 2006
New Generic Statins Mean Big Savings for Consumers Needing Cholesterol Reduction
Zocor loses patent protection; generic simvastatin and pravastatin added as ‘Best Buy’ picks by Consumer Reports
(Washington, D.C.) – Consumers who need medicine to lower their cholesterol should talk with their doctors about two new generics that could save them up to $1,800 per year, according to the latest report from Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs.
The updated report on a class of drugs called “statins” adds generic simvastatin and pravastatin as Best Buys for millions of people who need a cholesterol-lowering drug. About one in 10 people over age 20 now takes a statin; one in four aged 65 and over do.
Simvastatin is the generic name of Zocor, which lost patent protection on June 23. Generic pravastatin became available in April when the patent expired on Pravachol. The two generics join lovastatin as Best Buy alternatives to relatively expensive brand-name statins, such as Crestor, Lipitor, and Vytorin.
The statin report is one of 13 in a series comparing the effectiveness and cost of prescription drugs to treat a range of illnesses and conditions. All the reports are available to consumers free at www.CRBestBuyDrugs.org.
Both new generics will be less expensive than brand-name statins in coming months. But they may not drop sharply in price until late 2006 and early 2007 when more generic copies from other manufacturers come to market.
The cost of simvastatin could drop to the $15 to $30 range in early 2007. Assuming an average price (including discounts) for Lipitor and other brand statins of $65 per month by then, the potential savings to consumers, employers, insurers, and government health plans (taxpayers) is in the range of $7 billion to $11 billion per year. For consumers with insurance coverage, out-of-pocket payments would decline because most generics now require a lower co-pay – usually $7 to $10 per prescription versus $25 or more for brands.
Simvastatin’s availability is widely viewed as particularly important because it is the first potent statin to become a generic. Statins vary in their potency to reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels in the blood. Lovastatin and pravastatin are fine for people who need up to about 30 percent reduction in their LDL. Anyone needing greater LDL reduction – and especially people at higher risk for heart disease or who have heart disease or diabetes – must take a more potent statin.
The new report presents guidance to consumers on their choice of a statin and compares all six statins on effectiveness, potency, safety, and cost. Taking these and other factors into account, the report recommends:
• Generic lovastatin or pravastatin for people who need to lower LDL cholesterol by less than 30 percent
• Generic simvastatin for some people who need less than 30 percent LDL reduction; for people who need 30 percent or greater LDL reduction and/or have heart disease or diabetes; and for some people who have had a heart attack or have acute coronary syndrome
• Lipitor (atorvastatin) for some people who have had a heart attack or have acute coronary syndrome; with use advised for two years and then reevaluated
Acute coronary syndrome is a term for a diagnosis encompassing people with chest pain and EKG signs of heart disease and high risk of heart attack.
The report advises people who need and are already taking a potent statin to talk with their doctors about switching to simvastatin. For those now taking Zocor, that switch should happen as soon as possible. More caution may be in order for people taking other potent statins. Some may be advised by their doctors for good medical reasons to remain on the drug they are taking.
The report emphasizes that diet and lifestyle changes should be part of any treatment plan to reduce heart disease risk. It also recommends that people take the lowest dose of a statin that reduces their LDL cholesterol to an acceptable level. High doses pose greater risk of muscle and liver problems. However, some people – such as those who have had heart attacks – may need the highest dose, the report says.
Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs is a public information and education project. Its reports are based on independent, scientific reviews of the medical evidence by the Drug Effectiveness Review Project, a 15-state initiative based at the Oregon Health & Science University. The initiative compares drugs on effectiveness and safety for state Medicaid programs. Every report is also peer-reviewed by medical experts. The project is supported by grants from the Engelberg Foundation, a private philanthropy, and the National Library of Medicine.


Contact: Jennifer Fuson, Susan Herold 202-462-6262