Juvisync, a pill that combines medication for both diabetes and high cholesterol, recently won approval for sale in the U.S. The medication will provide a reduction in both expenses and pill count for users of Januvia and Zocor, both medications developed by Merck & Co., Inc.
Juvisync will be available within a few weeks and will combine Zocor, a statin drug that combats high cholesterol, with Januvia, a Type 2 diabetes medication. Juvisync will be priced about the same as Januvia alone — about $215 for a month’s supply. Generic forms of Zocor cost patients about $30 per month.
The combination pill will likely be attractive to many diabetics who are not currently taking statins, as they will be able to gain the benefits of those medications with little or no extra cost. The American Diabetes Association recommends that diabetics over the age of 40 or who have also been diagnosed with heart disease should take a statin every day.
“This provides a way to simplify their regimen and improve adherence,” says Dr. Susan Spratt of the Duke University Medical Center. According to Spratt, many diabetics already take several pills each day — sometimes six or more — due to the need for different medications for diabetes, high cholesterol, and blood pressure. Taking all of the necessary pills each day can be a chore, and even diabetics who have health insurance can find their medication to be very pricey.
Not only will the patients benefit from fewer pills to take, but the addition of a daily statin could prevent future costs of hospitalization, according to Spratt.
“Anything to reduce the cost is going to be helpful to patients,” says Spratt. “When you improve medication adherence, you actually lower health care costs because patients don’t end up in the ER or the hospital.”
Merck’s shares rose nearly 3 percent on the day of Juvisync’s announcement, up 19 cents to $31.61 at closing.
Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which the body does not produce enough insulin or does not use it correctly. The insulin that is produced is unable to bear the load of transporting glucose out of the bloodstream, so blood sugar levels remain elevated and permanent damage to organs and other tissues can result.
A sizable percentage of patients with Type 2 diabetes also have high cholesterol levels: both conditions are related to being overweight or obese. Those with both Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol are at elevated risk of stroke, kidney disease, heart disease, and other illnesses, as well as complications commonly associated with diabetes such as nerve damage and vision loss.
Though the dangers of high cholesterol combined with Type 2 diabetes are well-documented, Merck says that up to four million patients with Type 2 diabetes are not receiving statins.
“Perhaps one third of the nation’s eligible patients with type 2 diabetes are not being treated with a statin, so here’s a convenient tool for doctors to target glucose as well as cholesterol levels,” said Dr. Seth Reddy, director of clinical affairs for diabetes at Merck.
Merck will offer Juvisync in six different dosages, which will correspond to the variance in severity of diabetes and cholesterol in patients. Side effects include headache, muscle and stomach pain, stuffy nose, and sore throat. The drug will also revitalize Zocor, which saw its market share reduced when it became available in generic forms as simvastatin in 2006.