Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Generic ARBs are coming

People who take an angiotensin-receptor blocker (ARB) for high blood pressure or other reasons should soon be able to save some money on their medication. The FDA has given the go-ahead for losartan (Cozaar) to be sold as a generic drug. That makes losartan the first generic ARB on the market.

Angiotensin is a protein in the bloodstream that causes blood vessels to contract, which boosts blood pressure. ARBs work by preventing angiotensin from latching onto receptors in blood vessel walls, rendering it unable to deliver the "contract now" message that drives up blood pressure. They work as well as — but not usually better than — the older, less-expensive ACE inhibitors.

Losartan, the first ARB, became available in 1995. It was eventually followed by six others: candesartan (Atacand), eprosartan (Teveten), irbesartan (Avapro), olmesartan (Benicar), telmisartan (Micardis), and valsartan (Diovan). Teveten and Avapro are slated to lose their patent protection in 2010, opening the possibility of three generic ARBs in the near future, which would drive down the cost even further.

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