Specifically, Crestor is now indicated for
" the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease to reduce the risk of stroke, heart attack, and the risk of arterial revascularization procedures (including coronary artery bypass graft, or bypass grafting of a peripheral artery or carotid artery, or angioplasty or stent placement) in individuals who have no clinically evident heart disease but are at an increased risk of heart disease due to the combined effect of the following risk factors:
- Age (> 50 years in men; > 60 years in women), and
- An elevated high-sensitivity C-reactive protein level (> 2 mg/L), and
- Presence of at least one additional cardiovascular risk factor (e.g., high blood pressure, low HDL-C, smoking, or a family history of premature heart disease). "
There are several reasons why this is interesting:
1. It won't be long before Astra Zeneca, the makers of Crestor, advertise this new indication to patients on TV ads. They will likely ask patients to ask their doctor for CRP tests. Not everyone agrees with the use of the CRP test. The US Preventative Health Task Force (same folks that said mammograms under 50 may not be a good idea), also said that there was not enough evidence to test for and treat an elevated CRP. The Jupiter study led to Crestor getting this indication was a large, well done randomized trial and strong enough evidence for the FDA. However, some (like the US task force) don't think one study is enough.
2. Lipitor goes generic within a year. Lipitor is the number one selling drug in the country. A generic version of Lipitor could thus save millions. However, Lipitor does not have the indication for primary prevention of heart disease for patients with relatively normal cholesterol. I have previously blogged about what is meant by "an indication." Essentially, this means that the drug companies can only market to patients and doctors what the FDA says that they can do. Any other claims are considered "off-label" even if there is strong evidence that the medication does indeed work. My favorite example was back when Zyrtec (Pfizer) was a prescription drug and their marketing campaign focused on Zyrtec treating both indoor and outdoor allergies. The reality is that all allergens produce symptoms from histamines, and all antihistamines work the same way. However, none of Zyrtec's competitors (Allegra, Claritin) could make this claim since they did not have the indication. Thus, Pfizer made it sound like Zyrtec might be better than the others, when in fact, there wasn't really a difference.
However, Crestor's indication takes a more substantial meaning with generic Lipitor on the way. Lipitor has not been shown to do what Crestor did and probably never will, since Pfizer chose not to spend the money on this kind of study with Lipitor's patent fading. Unlike the Zyrtec/Allegra comparison, there may be a difference. Only the very potent, high dose statins have shown to substantially reduce CRP and potentially reverse cardiovascular disease. It is likely that Lipitor at an 80mg dose would do the same thing as Crestor 20mg, but could also have more side effects. Once Lipitor goes generic, the insurance companies are going to make it virtually impossible for patients to get Crestor. Yet, for primary prevention (as well as other more agressive lipid lowering goals), Crestor may be exactly what patients need.
3. The cholesterol guidelines that most physicians accept are the Adult Treatment Panel (ATP) III from the NIH's National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. These guidelines are about a decade old. The most recent update was back in 2004 in response to several important studies. The next version should be up for public comment in just a few weeks, and done by the summer. The FDA's decision today should force the committee (though they would've probably done this anyway) to address the CRP question. It should be very interesting as well to see if they limit treating CRP with Crestor, or generalize this to other statins.