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WellPoint Won't Reimburse on Crestor

October 03, 2003|From Associated Press

WellPoint Health Networks Inc., the nation's second-largest private health insurer, said Thursday that it would not reimburse people who use AstraZeneca's new cholesterol drug, Crestor, because of concerns over its safety.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Crestor in August after a long debate about the risk of side effects. The approval came with warnings about rare cases of a potentially fatal muscle-destroying condition that affects the kidneys called rhabdomyolysis.

After seven cases of rhabdomyolysis occurred during studies of the 80-milligram dose for which AstraZeneca initially sought approval, the FDA approved a dose of 40 milligrams and recommended starting doses at 5 or 10 milligrams.

High doses of Crestor also were linked to a few puzzling cases of kidney abnormalities. And as with other cholesterol drugs known as statins, Crestor also poses a risk of liver damage.

"There is a level of nervousness, and we're being conservative and we're being cautious," said Dr. Robert Seidman, chief pharmacy officer for Thousand Oaks-based WellPoint.

Roger Hyde, director of AstraZeneca's Crestor business, said he wasn't aware of WellPoint's decision and wouldn't comment on it.

But London-based AstraZeneca said Crestor is safe.

Excluding people who have taken the drug in clinical trials, 200,000 patients have used Crestor in 13 countries, Hyde said.

Spokesman Gary Bruell said the firm knew of no cases of kidney damage or contributing conditions among those patients.

AstraZeneca shares rose 22 cents to $44.32. WellPoint shares rose 81 cents to $80.01, also on the New York Stock Exchange.

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