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Are New Cholesterol Drugs Way Too Pricey?

You can now lower your LDL cholesterol to unprecedented levels with new cholesterol drugs. Are Repatha and Praluent worth their hefty price tags?

Are the new cholesterol-lowering drugs such as alirocumab (Praluent) and evolocumab (Repatha) marvelous breakthroughs for treating heart disease? Or are they irrelevant because most patients who might need them cannot afford their hefty price tags? Will insurance companies pay for the new cholesterol drugs?

Cardiologists Weigh In:

Those questions are addressed in a suite of articles this week in JAMA Cardiology. Such new cholesterol drugs, known as PCSK9 inhibitors, cost $14,000 a year or more. As a result, cardiologists are faced with a dilemma. Should they applaud these drugs that lower LDL cholesterol substantially better than any other current treatment? Or should they look at cost effectiveness?

Too Pricey to Be Cost Effective:

The analyses of data from trials of evolocumab lead the scientists to the conclusion that either the price would need to be significantly lower or only people at extremely high risk for heart problems should take the drug. Currently, they conclude;

“that reducing the price of PCSK9 inhibitors remains the best approach to delivering the potential health benefits of PCSK9 inhibitors therapy at an acceptable cost.”

JAMA Cardiology, online, Aug 23, 2017

Side Effects of Repatha:

Evolocumab does have some side effects. The most common are:

  • sore throat
  • upper respiratory infection
  • back pain and other muscle pain
  • redness and soreness at the injection site
  • sinusitis
  • headache
  • urinary tract infection
  • dizziness
  • elevated blood pressure
  • diarrhea and digestive distress

Praluent Side Effects:

Alirocumab has a similar list of side effects:

  • sore throat and stuffy nose
  • redness and soreness at the injection site
  • influenza or bronchitis
  • urinary tract infection
  • diarrhea
  • muscle pain or cramps
  • sinusitis
  • bruising
  • elevated liver enzymes
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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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