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Two researchers made a controversial proposal in the British Medical Journal on 28 June 2003. They suggested that everybody over the age of 55 should be given a pill every day to reduce the risk of heart disease and strokes. Each pill would contain a set of six generic drugs (hence polypill), including aspirin, folic acid and four other as yet unspecified drugs at reduced doses to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. The researchers — Professors Nicholas Wald and Malcolm Law of the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine in London — estimate that it would save about 200,000 lives a year in Britain alone. The proposal has had a mixed reception, not only because of the cost, but because of the ethical problems associated with medicating healthy people who don’t need the drugs, a dilemma which echoes that surrounding the adding of fluoride to tap water to reduce tooth decay.

Although it’s an enticing idea, the Polypill should not be a licence for people to lead unhealthy lifestyles that contribute to heart disease and stroke, says Charles George, medical director of the British Heart Foundation.

Nature, 27 June 2003

Prof Wald admitted it could be difficult to get the required backing from the drug industry for the pill to be produced and marketed. “Pharmaceutical companies need to make money and the concept of the polypill for some will erode their existing market,” he said.

Guardian, 26 June 2003

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Page created 19 Jul 2003; Last updated 17 Apr 2007