Novel Cholesterol Medicines are Around the Bend

drug bottles

Two new cholesterol-lowering medications are on their way to being released. Last week, a committee that advises the FDA favorably reviewed these medications. Genzyme’s Mipomerson and Aegerion’s Lomitapide are novel agents that will initially be prescribed for only a select group of patients with severe cholesterol abnormalities. Patients suffering from the homozygous form of Familial Hypercholesterolemia, a rare genetic disorder, will be able to receive these treatments in order to lower their LDL cholesterol and with luck, dramatically prolong their lives. Down the road these prescriptions will hopefully become available for others as well. In addition to the fact that two novel therapies will soon be in the armamentarium of doctors who treat patients such as these, it is important to appreciate non-therapeutic aspects of this development as well.

First, the two pharmaceutical companies have put tremendous resources into development the new drugs, producing two truly novel approaches to lipid lowering. The ramifications of their developmental research are likely not yet fully understood. Science grows in angles, not straight lines – the knowledge gleaned from developing these drugs will likely lead to diverse paths of new R&D, bringing physicians new strategies for treating a wide range of disorders. Second, these companies have put tremendous resources into developing treatments for what we call an orphan disease, a super-rare disorder. Without the help of these companies, many patients would be left untreated, their fate, certain death.

Finally it is important to remember that although people often bash the “greedy pharmaceutical industry”, a great deal of good comes from their efforts. You see that with these two drugs, but actually there is much more. Pharmaceutical companies spend millions of dollars in unrestricted grants. With this money, doctors are educated about diseases without ever being “sold” a particular medicine or therapy. As amazing as this might sound, without the generosity of pharmaceutical companies, practicing doctors would be far less educated. So before we unduly criticize the pharmaceutical industry (a popular pastime these days), let’s be sure we fully understand what they are about. From where doctors stand, pharmaceutical companies care just as much about educating doctors and nurses as they do about their own bottom line.

photo credit: genzyme.com

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