March 31, 2008 / 5:18 PM / in 10 years

Combo pill cuts blood pressure and heart risks

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Lotrel, a pill combining two blood pressure drugs in one, was so effective at preventing heart attacks and other problems in a clinical trial that the study was stopped early, and its findings may change the way hypertension is treated, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

The study compared the use of two different combinations of blood pressure drugs to see if combination pills could help patients get better control of their hypertension.

While both pills helped control blood pressure, people who took the Novartis AG drug Lotrel -- a pill containing an angiotensin-converting enzyme, or ACE, inhibitor plus a calcium channel blocker -- had 20 percent fewer heart events such as heart attacks and strokes than those who took an ACE inhibitor and diuretic, or “water pill,” combination.

“For the 73 million patients in America with high blood pressure, we offer a new option to reduce heart attacks, strokes and heart-related death by 20 percent,” said Dr. Kenneth Jamerson of the University of Michigan, who presented his findings at the American College of Cardiology meeting in Chicago.

He said the findings challenge current national guidelines for the treatment of high blood pressure, which call for patients who need medication to start out on a single pill, usually a diuretic, and to add other drugs only as needed.

“We found a different strategy could reduce cardiovascular risk,” Jamerson said in an interview.

In all, 10,700 volunteers took a single tablet that includes two drugs. Both pills contained the ACE inhibitor benazepril, known by the brand name Lotensin.

Lotrel combines benazepril with amlodipine besylate, the active ingredient in Pfizer Inc’s calcium channel blocker Norvasc. In the other, benazepril was combined with hydrochlorothiazide, a diuretic used to treat high blood pressure and fluid retention.

Both combination drugs helped 73 percent of patients reach their blood pressure targets after six months.

These results “shake the foundations of current recommendations and define a new standard,” Dr. Eric Velazquez of Duke University Medical Center said in a statement.

Millions of Americans take medications for hypertension but do not achieve control of their blood pressure. Reducing blood pressure can cut the risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure and other conditions.

The study was funded by Novartis.

Editing by Maggie Fox and Eric Beech

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