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Lawrence Meyers is the CEO of PDL Capital, which brokers financing, strategic investments, and distressed asset purchases between private equity firms and businesses of all stripes. He was the first U.S. journalist to cover the payday loan sector for The Motley Fool. He is a frequent contributor... More
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  • Astra-Zeneca Flies to Jupiter on Drug Results 0 comments
    Dec 4, 2009 4:32 PM | about stocks: AZN, BMY, MRK, PFE, NVS

    The second phase of a monumental pharmaceutical study were released a few days ago, and women everywhere must pay attention.  For those who believed the myth that cardiovascular disease was not significant in women, and that the use of statins wouldn’t help women who might be at risk – this is a big wake-up call.


    Pay attention:  you are at risk and statins can be of enormous benefit.  (And improper legislation may prevent women from having access to such a beneficial product).


    What was the name of the study?


    Justification for the Use of statins in Prevention: an Intervention Trial Evaluating Rosuvastatin.  That’s JUPITER, for short.


    Why was the study done?

    1) Twice as many women die of cardiovascular events (CVE’s) than from all forms of cancer combined.

    2) You don’t have to have high cholesterol to be at increased risk for CVE’s.

    3) If you have glucose issues, you are at risk for diabetes and increased CVE risk.


    Astra-Zeneca wanted to know if their drug, CRESTOR, could help these people.

    This drug is a statin, which slows the rate that cholesterol is produced in the body.


    What did the study measure? 

    The effects of 20mg of the drug on the risk of CVE’s.


    Why was the study important?

    1) Women previously weren’t considered candidates for statins.  Now they are.

    2) It was huge.  17,802 participants.  9,000 got the drug, of which 3,426 were women.

    3) It was long-term, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled.


    Dr. Benjamin Ansell, MD FACC, Assoc Prof of Medicine, UCLA School of Medicine, sums it up.  “This is an important study as it not only included significant representation by women, but it identified a strategy whereby their leading cause of death – heart disease – could be minimized. 


    What were the results?


    76% of women, 60 and over, had arterial revascularization.  In other words, the clogged arteries of most of these women were cleared out.


    Even if a woman doesn’t actually have CV disease, but is at increased risk from other factors, the drug reduced the risk of CVE’s by 46%. 


    For the 4,100 patients whose LDL fell below 50mg/dL because of this drug, they experienced a whopping 63% reduction in CVE’s.


    What this means for women


    Statins aren’t just for women who have cardiovascular disease.  They aren’t just for women with high cholesterol.  They are for any woman who exhibits certain risk factors. 


    The bottom line, therefore, is that statins can make a huge difference in prevention. Dr. Ansell says, “Considering that women have a higher likelihood of their first heart attack being fatal than men, are less prone to get as aggressive care during a heart attack as men, and have fewer premonitory symptoms than men, prevention is particularly key among this group. The aggressive use of statins among this group of women whose risk was not previously recognized and who were not considered candidates for cholesterol medications saved lives here.  It puts in better perspective the balance between risk and benefit in this population.”


    How is this actionable?


    First of all, America is getting fatter.  Our dietary habits are out of control.  So these drugs will always have a place in our society and, I believe, a growing place.  Several companies have statins on the market, all of which have had excellent results both in trials and the real world.  Merck (NYSE:MRK) makes Zocor, Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) makes Lipitor, Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE:BMY) makes Pravachol, Novartis (NYSE:NVS) makes Lescol, and Astra-Zeneca (NYSE:AZN) makes Crestor.


    So, for starters, I think we can count on healthy revenue for all of these companies from these statins until their patents expire.  We have to wait and see if the Crestor results show up on any of the other drugs before we make that leap, however.


    In the meantime, however, we should expect to see a lot more women start to use statins and Crestor, in particular.  The results are so favorable for women who don’t even have CV disease, that its usage could spike.  It will provide strong support to Astra-Zeneca’s already terrific line of drugs and bolster its revenue.   I would suggest holders of Astra maintain their position, and that those seeking exposure to the pharmaceutical market consider Astra as a solid choice.  It’s undervalued compared to its peers and operates with higher margins.  Given the selloff from its high, I see this news as justifying opening a position.


    Full Disclosure:  Lawrence Meyers has no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

    Disclosure: No position in any stocks mentioned
    Stocks: AZN, BMY, MRK, PFE, NVS
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