September 24, 2015 / 8:15 PM / 4 years ago

Top U.S. doctors say pricey cholesterol drugs best for limited group

BOSTON (Reuters) - Top U.S. heart doctors said on Thursday that newly developed cholesterol treatments that cost more than $14,000 per year are best used for the small group of patients for which they have been approved, at least for now.

Client Julius Wayne Dudley (L) reacts as volunteer Jeffrey Pierre-Paul picks his finger for a cholesterol test in the Family Van in Boston, Massachusetts August 9, 2010. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The drugs are vastly more expensive than the statins that are currently used by tens of millions of people to help control high cholesterol and have drawn scrutiny from health insurers who are concerned they will be widely prescribed.

The physicians’ views, detailed during a Rethinking Cholesterol panel presented by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in collaboration with Reuters, is not much different than that of some health insurers.

CVS Health, a pharmacy benefit manager, has set out a program that aims to limit the drug’s use and has said that it would try to use competition to wring steep discounts out of Amgen Inc and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Sanofi SA, who make the drugs.

It is that competition that Paul Ridker said will help get drug prices down - an issue that featured prominently in the U.S. Presidential campaign this week when Hillary Clinton unveiled a plan to cap drug costs.

“The price tag is exceptionally high. The good news is three different companies and potentially as many as five may have products in this arena soon, and hopefully competition will bring us there,” Paul Ridker, a cardiovascular specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said during the panel.

“This is the first time we are going to see the payers really exert their influence here as much as the physicians and the patients and that’s going to be an interesting twist for the story,” Ridker said.

How much drugs should cost is a difficult question, the panelists said. An independent non-profit organization that evaluates clinical and cost effectiveness of new medicines said earlier this month that these same cholesterol drugs were not cost effective if used by the 3.5 million to 15 million Americans who could be eligible for treatment.

There are several trials underway aimed at determining how much these new drugs cut the risk of heart attacks and deaths.

Patrick O’Gara, ex-president of the American College of Cardiology, said that he is concerned that people who think they are statin intolerant will seek out this drug.

“Release of these medications in an unfiltered way to a large number of patents with statin intolerance is a very worrisome proposition at this point and time, looking ahead and thinking about cost,” O’Gara said.

Reporting by Bill Berkrot in Boston; additional reporting and writing by Caroline Humer in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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