Tag Archives: valsartan

An Update On ACE2, RAAS and Covid-19: Still No Reason To Stop Or Change Your Blood Pressure Medication

Previously, I wrote a detailed post on concerns that have been raised about certain blood pressure medications potentially  increasing the risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2 or increasing the likelihood of death and serious disease related to the virus.

Millions of patients worldwide with heart failure and hypertension are taking drugs that inhibit pathways in the renal angiotensin aldosterone system termed angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs.)

Lisinopril and ramipril are common ACE inhibitors whereas valsartan, losartan, and irbesartan are common ARBs.

Speculation that these drugs might be contributing to mortality associated with COVID-19 was initiated by a “Rapid Response” published online March 3 by the British Medical Journal in response to an editorial on “preventing a COVID-19 pandemic.” and “Correspondence” to the Lancet published March 7.

Since then I’ve been following this topic closely but nothing has emerged from any new data or new expert analysis to suggest that patients should stop taking ACE inhibitors or ARBs.

Yesterday, an excellent summary of the topic from some of the world’s leading authorities was published in the New England Journal of Medicine entitled “Renin–Angiotensin–Aldosterone System Inhibitors in Patients with Covid-19″

It begins with this wonderful sentence: “The renin–angiotensin–aldosterone system (RAAS) is an elegant cascade of vasoactive peptides that orchestrate key processes in human physiology.”

The authors outline in detail the possible interactions between ACE2 receptors and SARS CoV-2.

For those not interested in the scientific details in the paper, the Cliff’s Notes version of this article is below. Basically, we have insufficient data to know if patients taking RAAS inhibitors are at higher or lower risk for serious SARS-CoV-2 infection.


KEY POINTS RELATED TO THE INTERPLAY BETWEEN COVID-19 AND THE RENIN–ANGIOTENSIN–ALDOSTERONE SYSTEM

  • • ACE2, an enzyme that physiologically counters RAAS activation, is the functional receptor to SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the Covid-19 pandemic
  • • Select preclinical studies have suggested that RAAS inhibitors may increase ACE2 expression, raising concerns regarding their safety in patients with Covid-19
  • • Insufficient data are available to determine whether these observations readily translate to humans, and no studies have evaluated the effects of RAAS inhibitors in Covid-19
  • • Clinical trials are under way to test the safety and efficacy of RAAS modulators, including recombinant human ACE2 and the ARB losartan in Covid-19
  • • Abrupt withdrawal of RAAS inhibitors in high-risk patients, including those who have heart failure or have had myocardial infarction, may result in clinical instability and adverse health outcomes
  • • Until further data are available, we think that RAAS inhibitors should be continued in patients in otherwise stable condition who are at risk for, being evaluated for, or with Covid-19

So my recommendations (and more importantly the recommendations of every major society or organization which has weighted in on this topic) to patients remain the same: don’t stop your ACE inhibitor or ARB due to concerns about coronavirus.

Skeptically Yours,

-ACP

Coronavirus and ACE Inhibitors: Do Not Stop Taking Your Blood Pressure Medication

Many of my patients with hypertension and/or cardiovascular disease are taking drugs termed angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs.)

Both types of drugs are mainstays in our treatment of hypertension and heart failure.

Lisinopril and ramipril are common ACE inhibitors whereas valsartan, losartan, and irbesartan are common ARBs.

Speculation that these drugs might be contributing to mortality associated with COVID-19 was initiated by a “Rapid Response” published online March 3 by the British Medical Journal in response to an editorial on “preventing a COVID-19 pandemic.” and “Correspondence” to the Lancet published March 7.

I’ve provided the paragraph in which the authors of the Rapid Response raise the question along with their rationale at the end of this post.

Primarily, however, in this post I want to reproduce comments from experts in this area which confirm my observation that the evidence is not sufficient to ask patients to stop these life-saving drugs.

From the European Society of Cardiology yesterday (March 13, 2020):

Based on initial reports from China, and subsequent evidence that arterial hypertension may be associated with increased risk of mortality in hospitalized COVID-19 infected subjects, hypotheses have been put forward to suggest a potential adverse effects of angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE-i) or Angiotensin Receptor Blockers (ARBs). It has been suggested, especially on social media sites, that these commonly used drugs may increase both the risk of infection and the severity of SARS-CoV2. The concern arises from the observation that, similar to the coronavirus causing SARS, the COVID-19 virus binds to a specific enzyme called ACE2 to infect cells, and ACE2 levels are increased following treatment with ACE-i and ARBs.

Because of the social media-related amplification, patients taking these drugs for their high blood pressure and their doctors have become increasingly concerned, and, in some cases, have stopped taking their ACE-I or ARB medications.

This speculation about the safety of ACE-i or ARB treatment in relation to COVID-19 does not have a sound scientific basis or evidence to support it. Indeed, there is evidence from studies in animals suggesting that these medications might be rather protective against serious lung complications in patients with COVID-19 infection, but to date there is no data in humans.

The Council on Hypertension of the European Society of Cardiology wish to highlight the lack of any evidencesupporting harmful effect of ACE-I and ARB in the context of the pandemic COVID-19 outbreak.

The Council on Hypertension strongly recommend that physicians and patients should continue treatment with their usual anti-hypertensive therapy because there is no clinical or scientific evidence to suggest that treatment with ACEi or ARBs should be discontinued because of the Covid-19 infection.

 


 

And from the Science Media Centre:

Prof Tim Chico, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine and Honorary Consultant Cardiologist, University of Sheffield, said:

“This letter does not report the results of a study; it simply raises a possible question about whether a type of blood pressure and heart disease medication called ACE inhibitors might increase the chances of severe COVID19 infections.  It does not give any evidence that confirms this, simply that it suggests such a relationship should be looked for.

“It is very important that this letter is not interpreted or reported as saying that ACE inhibitors are proven to worsen COVID19 disease.  With more information we will begin to be able to understand whether the relationships between disease severity and existing disease and treatment.

“I strongly advise anyone on heart medications not to stop or change these without discussion with their doctor.  If a patient stops their medication and worsens to the point of requiring admission to hospital at the same time as we are dealing with an increase in COVID19 cases, that would pose the patient a considerable risk and put further strain on the healthcare services.”

 

Prof Peter Sever, Professor of Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, Imperial College London, said:

“There are some questions about whether certain drugs such as angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers, commonly taken by patients with hypertension, heart failure and diabetes might increase susceptibility to corona virus infection.  On the other hand these drugs could reduce the risk of serious lung disease following infection.

“At the present time we have no evidence as to whether either of these two possibilities are true.

“Patients could be put at risk by stopping these drugs, which are effective treatments for their current condition, without medical supervision, and until further evidence is available should be encouraged to continue their current treatment.”

 

Prof Hugh Montgomery, UCL Professor of Intensive Care Medicine, UCL, said:

“There is no proof yet that the use of ACE inhibitors worsen Coronovirus infection.  There are theoretical reasons, in fact, why they might offer benefit in serious disease.  I would not advocate people ceasing such medication until the evidence has been weighed and clear guidance issued.”

 

Dr Dipender Gill, Specialist Registrar in Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, and a Postdoctoral Researcher at Imperial College London, said:

“Evidence is currently lacking and it is too early to make robust conclusions on any link between use of angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin II type-I receptor blockers with risk or severity of novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection.  Furthermore, the acute implications of stopping such medications in relation to effects on risk or severity of COVID-19 infection are not known.  Patients should be advised to follow public health guidance rather than alter their medications without proper and informed consultation with their medical doctor.”

 



Let me repeat my main message: Do Not Stop Your Blood Pressure Medication Based On This Speculation.

I will keep monitoring this area and update you as information arises.

 

Skeptically Yours,

-ACP

This article has been updated with additional information as of 3/30/20 with a newer post here.

N.B. It is not unreasonable to raise questions but before making substantial changes in treatment we need more data. Below, the BMJ Rapid Response

The question is, does there exist a connection between the use of these drugs and severe sequela of Covid-19? While the epidemiological association has not been investigated yet, several indicators underline the hypothesis of the link between ACE inhibitors and Covid-19:

On the one hand, it has been shown that the Covid-19 agent (also known as SARS-CoV-2), uses the SARS-COV receptor angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) 2 for entry into target cells [4]. The interface between ACE2 and the viral spike protein SARS-S has been elucidated and the efficiency of ACE2 usage was found to be a key determinant of SARS-CoV transmissibility [4].

On the other hand, it could be shown in animal experiments that both the ACE-inhibitor lisinopril and the angiotensin-receptor blocker losartan can significantly increase mRNA expression of cardiac ACE2 (5-fold and 3-fold, respectively) [5]. Further, losartan also significantly increases cardiac ACE2 activity [5].

Is a link between these observations possible? Is the expression of ACE2 receptor in the virus targeted cells increased by the use of ACE-inhibitor/angiotensin-receptor blocker and is the patient therefore more at risk for a severe course? We need rapid epidemiological and preclinical studies to clarify this relationship. If this were the case, we might be able to reduce the risk of fatal Covid-19 courses in many patients by temporarily replacing these drugs.

FDA Recalls More Generic Blood Pressure Meds: Where Are Your Medications Manufactured?

In July of 2018, the FDA made a series of voluntary recalls of several versions of the generic blood pressure medication valsartan which were made in China and were contaminated by the “possible carcinogen,”  N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA).

At the time I asked readers the question, “Is your BP med made in china and is it safe?” as it became clear that now in the US users of medications must be very aware of the source and quality of the products they put in their body.

Generic prescription medications and OTC products are highly likely to be manufactured out of the US and with minimal oversight.

Since then the FDA has announced multiple other recalls for companies producing angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) in the same class as valsartan, including products containing losartan and irbesartan,. These drugs have been found to be contaminated contaminated with NDMA or another carcinogen  N-nitrosodiethylamine (NDEA).

The recall now includes irbesartan and losartan plus additional lots of valsartan. Thus, some patients who we switched from valsartan to losartan are now having to switch again.

Click the following links to review updated lists of irbesartan products under recall, losartan medications under recall, valsartan products under recall and valsartan products not under recall.

Here’s  the FDA’s valsartan alert notice from 1/2/19

FDA is alerting patients and health care professionals to Aurobindo Pharma USA’s voluntary recall of two lots of valsartan tablets, 26 lots of amlodipine and valsartan combination tablets, and 52 lots of valsartan and hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ) combination tablets due to the amount of N-Nitrosodiethylamine (NDEA) in the valsartan active pharmaceutical ingredient. Aurobindo is recalling amlodipine and HCTZ only in combination medications containing valsartan. Neither amlodipine nor HCTZ is currently under recall by itself.

Aurobindo is recalling lots of valsartan-containing medication that tested positive for NDEA above the interim acceptable daily intake level of 0.083 parts per million.

The agency continues to investigate and test all angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) for the presence of NDEA and N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) and is taking swift action when it identifies these impurities that are above interim acceptable daily intake levels.

FDA also updated the list of valsartan products under recall and the list of valsartan products not under recall.

FDA reminds patients taking any recalled ARB to continue taking their current medicine until their pharmacist provides a replacement or their doctor prescribes a different medication that treats the same condition. Some ARBs contain no NDMA or NDEA.

Fortunately, there are multiple generic  and brand nameARBs we can substitute for the recalled products.

perspective-1

Patients Discover How Hard It Is To Find Non-Chinese Medications

When I tried to find the source of my generic medications, the results were eye-opening:

 my cholesterol drug is made in India by an Indian company and my blood pressure drug is made in Columbus, Ohio, by a Jordanian company.

I had not realized how globalized the pharmaceutical industry had become.

Many readers also researched the source of the pills they were taking and shared their experience through comments on my blog:

“Frustrated” wrote

My cardiologist changed my blood pressure med to irbesartan. Another generic ARB. I went to get it filled today at a local grocery store pharmacy. I asked where it was made and they showed me the bottle. Guess what? It was SOLCO/Prinston as distributor and Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceuticals LTD – the same manufacturer as the tainted valsartan. Exactly the same. Despite the recent horrible FDA inspection report of that facility which is posted online here: https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/CDERFOIAElectronicReadingRoom/UCM621162.pdf

Also, the FDA has found another cancer causing chemical in the drug since I last wrote – now there are two. I checked at [MAJOR CHAIN] pharmacy – they use the SAME CHINESE MANUFACTURER. I checked at [MAJOR CHAIN 2] – yep, they use the SAME CHINESE MANUFACTURER. This is really starting to get scary. I’m trying hard to find a pharmacy that has the non-Chinese version (there are 16 other generic manufacturers of the drug). My insurance company only permits me to use the pharmacies I tried today. Funny how everyone is buying Chinese. Does that validate the claims made in the Epoch article. Is this really that Chinese are undercutting everyone else? I’m just disgusted. I will tell you that if I owned a pharmacy I would not purchase my generics from the same company that just caused one of the largest drug recalls in history. It must be really really cheap. Really really cheap.

Mitch writes:

I have been taking Losartan, but became really concerned with the latest news about carcinogens found in two more BP medications. I called EVERY local pharmacy, including big-box stores, grocery store pharmacies, independent pharmacies, and traditional pharmacies. Not a single one has US-made losartan. Every one of them has stock of meds made in either China or India. One pharmacists told me that he had no control of what he sells; it’s all decided on the corporate level. Another said that he would stock the cheapest generic he could find. Still another pharmacy tried to convince me that Citron, Torrent, and Solco are New Jersey companies selling US-made drugs. It takes only a few minutes of Internet research to prove them wrong. Apparently, there is no incentive to stock US-made drugs. I agree, the consumers have to take action and write to their representatives demanding answers from the FDA.

BIS wrote:

I have just had the same experience. My Indian made Valsartan (Camber) was recalled so my doctor switched me to Irbesartan 150 mg tablets which at my local CVS were also manufactured by Camber. I reluctantly took these while searching for US or European made alternatives. I just went to CVS to get my refill. When I got home instead of the Indian Irbesartan I received a bottle manufactured by Zhejiang Huahai Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd.,(ZHP) Xunqiao, Linhal, Zhejiang China. I am a mechanical engineer not a chemistry major but I believe Irbesartan contains API which is what has been the problem from this company. Looking at the internet I see that the FDA has and import alert for this company. The import alert halts all ZHP-made API and finished drug products using the company’s API from legally entering the United States (https://www.pharmacist.com/article/fda-places-zhejiang-huahai-pharmaceuticals-import-alert). Let’s see- did the Chinese use good API in this batch….I called the CVS and asked for alternatives and was told “good luck”. My doctor said he will work with me if I can find non Chinese or Indian medication. I go out of my way to buy American made goods as I have worked in manufacturing my entire career and have made numerous trips to China and seen what goes on. My Chinese colleagues when they come to the US fill their bags with US made baby formula and vitamins (which probably contain Chinese ingredients). If anyone finds a US or European source of BP medication please post it.

What Can We Do?

One of my readers, Kate, made the following suggestion which made a lot sense:

write to the Senate committee that oversees the FDA. Demand more clarity in labeling of prescription bottles – the country of origin should be CLEAR and CONSPICUOUS – just like that little “Made in China” sticker on the photo above – but on the prescription label itself. Right now only the pharmacist’s supply bottle has the labeling. Write your congressman and to:

U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions

428 Senate Dirksen Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

I would encourage patients who are taking these recalled ARBS (which are really good blood pressure medications) to check their pill bottles and check with their pharmacists to determine if they have been recalled. If the pharmacist can’t replace your medication with an identical ARB that hasn’t been withdrawn, ask your physician for one of the alternatives listed above.

Find out what country you’re generic drugs in general are made in and let your congressional representatives know you want better FDA oversight of off-shore pharmacuetical manufacturing along with complete transparency with respect to country of origin.

Skeptically Yours,

-ACP

Is Your Generic Medication Made In China and Is It Safe?

Last week the FDA recalled several versions of the generic blood pressure medication valsartan which were made in China and contained a carcinogen (see here.)

Since then I  have switched many patients from the bad valsartan to losartan or valsartan from presumably safe manufacturers.

It didn’t really occur to me that this could be just the tip of the iceberg until I received a reader comment which I will copy below.

As I thought about it, I realized that I have no idea where the generic ramipril I am taking is manufactured. It very well could be in China or India.

This recent article from The Epoch Times confirms that Americans are becoming more and more reliant on medications manufactured in China and that many researchers feel this poses a significant security threat.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is inspecting only a small number of the Chinese companies that manufacture U.S. drugs, and those it does inspect are often found to have serious health violations. Meanwhile, the drugs that are making their way into the United States from China, either as finished products or as ingredients, are often falling far below U.S. safety standards. And some of these drugs are not being inspected at all.

The book, “China RX: Exposing the Risks of America’s Dependence on China for Medicine” by Rosemary Gibson and Janardan Prasad Singh,” details the problem.

It is very hard to find out how many US drugs come from China since drug companies don’t make their sources apparent. In addition, even if the drugs themselves aren’t manufactured in China, Gibson and Singh write

“China is the largest global supplier of the active ingredients and chemical building blocks needed to make many prescription drugs, over the counter products and vitamins.”

Below are the comments of my reader:


This is horrible. We have a problem in the U.S. It is the infiltration of Chinese generics. I had no idea that this generic was being supplied by a Chinese maker. In fact, the bottles I got said “SOLCO” which is based in New Jersey. Now I’m painfully aware that SOLCO Healthcare US which is based in New Jersey, is owned by Zhejiang Huahai Paarmaceutical based in China’s Zhejiang Province. So this is the Chinese company’s subsidiary distributing this drug in the U.S. China has a long history of selling tainted products in the U.S. Chinese drywall, lead-based paint on toys, tainted pet food, etc. Now it is important to understand that 85% of prescriptions filled in the U.S. are generic. And insurance companies will not pay for brand when generic is available. My valsartan was about $30 for 90 days. Diovan is $750. I get it. But when these companies cut corners and people are endangered, something is wrong. I will never ever take another generic drug without first finding out where the product comes from. I know this is not perfect, but it is something. I think the U.S. lawmakers need to do something to make this information more transparent. It baffles me as to how this drug could have been tainted with a highly toxic chemical for so many years (they now say 4 years). This chemical is known to cause liver damage and cancer. Apparently the manufacturer changed the way it made the active ingredient which created this poison by-product. And now who do we hold accountable? How do we get to the bottom of what went wrong, and how to prevent this going forward. We have no way to compel anything in China. All that said, thanks for your information here it is helpful. I worry that the losartan is made by the same company – I will surely investigate.


China is also flooding the American market with useless OTC medications. I realized this when I looked closely at this “motion sickness patch” which is highly rated on Amazon.

It has no active ingredient which could be realistically thought to treat motion sickness yet is featured on Amazon’s motion sickness treatment section and is favorably reviewed by over a thousand users.

 

Unfortunately, in the US now users of medications must be very aware of the source and quality of the products they put in their body. Generic prescription medications and OTC products are highly likely to be manufactured out of the US and with minimal oversight.

Skeptically Yours,

-ACP

Addendum: I have a more recent post which includes additional recalls here.

If You Are Taking Valsartan Read This

The FDA issued a press release July 13 announcing the voluntary recall of several drug products containing valsartan.

Valsartan is a generic, commonly used member of the drug class of angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) used for high blood pressure and heart failure and I have many patients on it. The brand name form of it (Diovan) does not appear to be on the recall list.

Per the FDA, the recall was

due to an impurity, N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), which was found in the recalled products. However, not all products containing valsartan are being recalled. NDMA is classified as a probable human carcinogen (a substance that could cause cancer) based on results from laboratory tests. The presence of NDMA was unexpected and is thought to be related to changes in the way the active substance was manufactured.

If you are taking it read the following from the FDA to see if your particular manufacturer is included in the recall.

If your valsartan has been recalled contact your doctor for instructions. For my patients, most likely I will substitute another ARB called losartan which has very similar effectiveness and side effects.


Information for Patients and Health Care Professionals From The FDA

  • Because valsartan is used in medicines to treat serious medical conditions, patients taking the recalled valsartan-containing medicines should continue taking their medicine until they have a replacement product.
  • To determine whether a specific product has been recalled, patients should look at the drug name and company name on the label of their prescription bottle. If the information is not on the bottle, patients should contact the pharmacy that dispensed the medicine.
  • If a patient is taking one of the recalled medicines listed below, they should follow the recall instructions provided by the specific company. This information will be posted to the FDA’s website.
  • Patients should also contact their health care professional (the pharmacist who dispensed the medication or doctor who prescribed the medication) if their medicine is included in this recall to discuss their treatment, which may include another valsartan product not affected by this recall or an alternative treatment option.

The companies listed below are recalling all lots of non-expired products that contain the ingredient valsartan supplied by a third-party. Not all valsartan-containing medicines distributed in the United States have valsartan active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) supplied by this specific company. The supplier has stopped distributing its valsartan API and the FDA is working with the affected companies to reduce or eliminate the valsartan API impurity from future products.

Recalled Products

Medicine Company
Valsartan Major Pharmaceuticals
Valsartan Solco Healthcare
Valsartan Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd.
Valsartan/Hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ) Solco Healthcare
Valsartan/Hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ) Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd.

“We have carefully assessed the valsartan-containing medications sold in the United States, and we’ve found that the valsartan sold by these specific companies does not meet our safety standards. This is why we’ve asked these companies to take immediate action to protect patients,” said Janet Woodcock, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.


-ACP