According to a study published on Friday, low-dose aspirin is as effective and much cheaper than statins, which lower cholesterol, or the blood thinning drug clopidogrel, which is sold under the brand name Plavix by the French drug firm Sanofi-Synthelabo. 

"This analysis confirms the poor cost effectiveness of statins and clopidogrel compared with aspirin and antihypertensive treatments," Tom Marshall, of the University of Birmingham in England, said in the British Medical Journal. 

Price variations

All the treatments are effective in preventing coronary heart disease, which kills millions of people worldwide each year, but the prices vary greatly. 

"Aspirin, low-cost blood-pressure lowering treatment should be given much greater prominence and less attention should be given to high-cost interventions"

Tom Marshall,
researcher,
University of Birmingham

Marshall estimated the cost of the different treatments for individuals and in combination for patients with various levels of risk for developing heart disease. 

He calculated it would cost about £3500 ($5946) a year to prevent a heart problem in a patient with a 10% risk of the disease over five years with aspirin, compared with £18,300 for drugs that lower blood pressure, £60,000 pounds for clopidogrel and £61,400 for simvastatin, the cholesterol fighter marketed by Merck & Co Inc under the name Zocor.

'Purely theoretical'

Sanofi described the study as a purely theoretical analysis that did not take into account the current clinical indications
for clopidogrel, treatment guidelines or clinical practice. 

Heart disease kills millions  of
people worldwide each year

"The methodology used and the comparison used in this publication cannot be applied to clopidogrel, since clopidogrel is not indicated for the primary prevention of atherothrombotic events (heart attack, stroke or death from a cardiovascular cause)," the company said in a statement. 

Marshall compared the high-priced interventions to giving a patient a Rolls Royce when they would get a similar benefit from using a bicycle. 

All the emphasis and advertising is on the latest drugs and the cheaper, older treatments are forgotten, he added. 

"There should be greater emphasis on simple treatments. Aspirin, low-cost blood-pressure lowering treatment should be
given much greater prominence and less attention should be given
to high-cost interventions," Marshall said.