New drug could save thousands of lives, but cost dooms most

The Government is resisting calls to subsidise new drugs that could save thousands.

cholesterol test

More than 5.5 million men and women in Australia have high cholesterol – a key contributor to heart disease, which is the single biggest killer of Australians. And while some sufferers are able to keep the condition under control with statins, others would reap major benefits from another family of drugs recently approved for use in Australia.

It has been estimated that these drugs could prevent thousands of strokes and heart attacks, but they are subsidised only for a select group of people who have been diagnosed as statin-resistant. For others, the annual cost would be about $8000.

Cholesterol is an essential type of fat that is carried in the blood, the CSIRO explains. “Too much cholesterol in the blood can damage your arteries and lead to heart disease.”

And the prevalence of high cholesterol is highest among those aged 55 to 64, with almost one in two having high total cholesterol.

Statins can cut cholesterol levels by 50 per cent and recent studies show that this new family of drugs, called PCSK9 inhibitors, can boost that protection by another 25 per cent.

PCSK9 inhibitors, which are delivered via injections, trick the liver into sucking cholesterol out of the bloodstream.

“One Australian study found that if you treated just 1000 people at high risk of a heart attack with the new drugs for 25 years, it would prevent 70 strokes or heart attacks. For people at high risk, a large drop in cholesterol could produce a very substantial drop in heart attack and stroke risk,” Professor Tom Marwick, director of the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, told The Age. “Potentially this could save a lot of lives.”

Prof. Marwick has called on the federal Health Department to reconsider an application to subsidise the drugs for more sufferers.

“You might spend money on this,” he says, “but you would save money on repeat hospital admissions. These are the kind of numbers we should be discussing.”

The Heart Foundation explains that there are two main types of lipoproteins cholesterol in the blood – low-density lipoproteins (LDL-C) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL-C).

The lower the density of the lipoproteins the more fats it contains. HDL-C is called the ‘good cholesterol’ because it helps to keep cholesterol from building up in the arteries. LDL-C is called the ‘bad cholesterol’ because it is the main source of cholesterol build-up and blockage in the arteries. Statin medication works to reduce this LDL-C.

The Heart Foundation offers an action plan for anyone with cholesterol problems.

Do you have high cholesterol? Have you changed your lifestyle as a result? Do you take statins? Would this new family of drugs benefit you?



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    Ted Wards
    22nd Jan 2019
    How about we promote a more healthy lifestyle to these wonderful people? Studies show that Statin in fact does little to assist in reducing levels but that changing your diet and lifestyle choices to healthier one has a positive impact in reducing cholesterol. Read the book lost connections which reveals that in fact most pharmaceutical drugs cause more issues than they solve and why now in America they are in the process of changing laws around these so called reports they pay for which in actual fact are false as all reports that do not support their claims are buried. Under the Freedom of Information Act you can actually get copies of all the reports which shows most drugs are ineffectual and harmful.
    22nd Jan 2019
    Is the book you mention the one that deals with depression and life style choices?
    22nd Jan 2019
    Three comments someone might want to check into -

    First, my doctors had me on statins for 10 years before they discovered statins damaged my liver. Within one year of the doc taking me off statins my liver was half way recovered. Doc says the kest of the damage may not change.

    Second, a by- product of 10 years of statins was a gallbladder mostly full of gallstones. It is likely I will struggle with the pain and problems this causes for life. Removal of gallbladder is a possibility.

    Thirdly, an older friend told me he had success reducing his cholesterol to lower manageable levels by sprinkling ground cinnamon on his toast each morning. After a year of this I can report reducing cholesterol levels. I will continue to monitor this.

    Overall a really big concern is that financial pressure on our medical system is resulting in much fewer doctors spending enough time to diagnose correctly their patients needs and illnesses. So few doctors now show enough concern to really help their patients. That is a bad trend that should be corrected.
    22nd Jan 2019
    BrianP and Jim just reading what you wrote made me look at my medications and one of them taken every morning is Lorstat 10. I think a visit to my Doctor
    22nd Jan 2019
    I was on Lorstat for over 2 years and suffered from pain in muscles and joints, (this was noted as a side effect in the medication data sheet).
    My Dr. wouldn't believe me and refused to change the medication, sent me to a Physio instead. I threatened to change GP's so he relented and put me on a new drug Crestor.
    Now moving more freely with half the dose.
    22nd Jan 2019
    I was put on statins after a heart attack and having 3 stents inserted, I had never displayed high cholesterol prior to that, I quizzed my doc as to why I was put on statins, her response was that there was a greater likelihood of a blockage if I didn’t control my cholesterol, rock and a hard place comes to mind, I have got an appointment with my specialist in a few weeks, maybe a chance for some clarification.
    22nd Jan 2019
    And people wonder why the health budget blows out!
    22nd Jan 2019
    Statins are pure poison. Healthy lifestyle and proper diet also reduces cholesterol. It would cost billions to supply the drug to everyone who has a cholesterol problem, and you sure as hell can't select just 1000 or else everyone else would be screaming their heads off.
    22nd Jan 2019
    Thanks Janelle. So I guess the figure that the Government has deemed too high to save thousands of lives (as the newsletter link to this article promised) is $44 billion each year. But I’m not totally sure, my calculator was struggling to multiply 5.5 million x $8000 per year. Do we spend that much on all hospital services each year? Including those treating people with non-cholesterol conditions, like cancer?

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