Medco Health Solutions, Inc., announced this week that it will conduct a clinical trial to assess whether clopidogrel bisulfate (Plavix ®, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Sanofi-aventis) is just as effective as the newer drug prasugrel (Effientâ„¢, Eli Lilly and Company) in people who lack a genetic variation that inhibits their metabolism of clopidogrel. This new research has important implications for both patient safety and health care costs.
Both clopidogrel and prasugrel are anti-platelet medications that reduce the ability of blood to form clots. The drugs are used to reduce the risk of a heart attack and stroke in people who have suffered from a recent cardiovascular event, and in those who have peripheral artery disease, unstable angina or a stent.
Variations in the CYP2C19 gene that prevent clopidogrel from being converted into its active form in the body have been shown to prevent patients from receiving the drug’s full benefit. People with these gene variations who are taking clopidogrel may be at a higher risk for heart attacks, strokes and death from cardiovascular causes than those whose genetics allow them to metabolize the drug.
(Prasugrel is metabolized through a different biological pathway than clopidogrel, and is not affected by CYP2C19 variants.)
Medco’s study will assess patients’ rates of nonfatal heart attacks, nonfatal strokes and cardiovascular deaths after six months of treatment with either clopidogrel or prasugrel. Researchers will be looking to see if there is any difference between those patients who are taking clopidogrel, and whose genetics predict that they should be able to metabolize it–and those patients who are taking prasugrel.
“Plavix is going generic in 2011 and if found to be equally effective as Effient for patients who have a normally functioning version of the CYP2C19 gene, the study provides the evidence that would allow these patients to opt for a lower cost treatment,” said Medco’s chief medical officer Dr. Robert Epstein in a press release.
Former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael O. Leavitt was quoted in the Medco press release as saying, “Studies like this are necessary to show how innovation can derive greater value from what we spend on health care. A simple test can identify a drug’s ability to work for a particular patient or point them to another one that could provide a better outcome. Personalized medicine is the new frontier in making medication safer and more effective. What we learn from this study, and others like it, will save lives and money.”
Patients aren’t the only ones who would save if Medco’s research shows that the soon-to-be generic clopidogrel is an effective choice for them. An Associated Press story notes that generic drugs are more profitable for Medco than higher-priced brand name products.
Comparative effectiveness research has received a lot of attention in the United States health care debate lately. Some worry that it will result in policies that are not in patients’ best interests.
“We need to be mindful of the goal of comparative effectiveness research and not lose all that we have gained in understanding how individuals differ and how that could be factored into better diagnostics and preventive strategies,” said National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Francis Collins, speaking at a recent American Association for the Advancement of Science forum on personalized medicine.
Collins recommended that genetic factors be included in comparative effectiveness research (as is the case in Medco’s study), to make sure that treatments that work for specific groups of patients are not “lost in the wash by considering everybody equivalent.”
Related Blog Posts:
More Evidence that Genetics Can Reduce the Efficacy of Anti-Clotting Medication Clopidogrel
SNPwatch: Genetic Variants May Reduce Ability of Anti-Clotting Drug Clopidogrel to Prevent a Second Heart Attack