Researchers from Kaiser Permanente's Northern California region are presenting a study at this week's American Heart Association Scientific Sessions showing that patients who use a generic statin drug rather than its brand-name equivalent fared as well as- sometimes better than-patients on the more expensive drug.
The study of 33,000 patients observed their health after a switch from the brand name drug simvastatin (Zocor) to lovastatin (Mevacor) over a 12-month period. According to the study's lead author, Eleanor Levin, MD, Chief of Cardiology for Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, "All of the participants maintained the same cholesterol levels using lovastatin as under the simvastatin regime, and some saw their LDL levels improve."
In the primary prevention group involved in the study, LDL cholesterol fell on average from 119.4 on the brand-name drug to 116.6 on lovastatin, while HDL ("good" cholesterol) rose from 50.9 on simvastatin to 53.0 on lovastatin. The secondary prevention group showed similar results; LDL cholesterol fell from 101.1 to 99.0 after the transition from brand-name to generic statin, while HDL rose from 45.7 to 48.1.
In addition to better health for Kaiser Permanente patients, successful conversion to a generic drug will lead to better outcomes for low-income patients and the nation's health in general, as Dr. Levin outlined. "As many as 20 percent of patients in the US say they don't fill prescriptions because they can't afford them. As physicians, the main thing that stands between us and the effectiveness of the medication regime we prescribe is the issue of affordability for our patients. Statins can't prevent heart attack and stroke unless you take them," she said.
Co-author David Campen, MD, emphasized the economic benefits of the study's conclusions. "High cholesterol is one of the most common diseases in the United States. In 2003, more than $12 billion was spent on this class of drugs in the U.S. alone. This study shows that generic statins are just as effective as their brand name counterparts at a fraction of the cost. This sends the message to people dealing with huge drug bills -- ask your doctor about the generic alternative rather than the drug you see advertised on TV."
Kaiser Permanente is America's leading integrated health plan. Founded in 1945, it is a not-for-profit, group practice prepayment program with headquarters in Oakland, California. Kaiser Permanente serves the health care needs of over 8.3 million members in 9 states and the District of Columbia. Today it encompasses Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and their subsidiaries, and the Permanente Medical Groups, as well as an affiliation with Group Health Cooperative based in Seattle.
Nationwide, Kaiser Permanente includes approximately 134,000 technical, administrative and clerical employees and 11,000 physicians representing all specialties