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Cholesterol-lowering drugs for kids?

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KAI RYSSDAL: The American Academy of Pediatrics made a recommendation today that’s turning some heads — that kids as young as 8 years old take drugs to lower their cholesterol levels if diets don’t do the trick. With some of the most popular cholesterol drugs losing patent protection in a couple of years — and thus getting stiff competition from generics — Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer reports on whether kids with high cholesterol might be the next big market for Big Pharma.

NANCY MARSHALL GENZER: Some drug makers do see kids as a profitable new market. Doctor J. Lyle Bootman is dean of the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy.

J. LYLE BOOTMAN: Ten years ago there were no companies developed aimed at drugs for children. Now there are a few companies that have popped up.

So, are Saturday morning cartoons going to start including commercials like this?

COMMERCIAL: While we were building our life . . . Something else was building in my arteries: dangerous plaque.

About 30 percent of American children are overweight or obese. But Morningstar health industry analyst Debbie Wang says drug makers will be cautious about marketing cholesterol-lowering drugs for kids.

DEBBIE WANG: I don’t think it’s going to be a huge boon to the industry. There are too many questions left about whether once you put a 10-year-old on one of these drugs, do they keep taking it forever?

That would be nice for Pfizer. It makes the cholesterol-lowering drug, Lipitor. It’s the best-selling drug in the world, with nearly $13 billion in annual sales. Its patent protection from generic competition ends completely in 2011.

Could Pfizer tweak Lipitor, making a special drug for kids that could be patented? Gustav Ando is a pharmaceutical industry analyst with Global Insight. He says probably not. These drugs have already been honed to perfection.

Gustav Ando: They’re so damn good, to be honest. They’re sort of almost a victim of their own success because it’s actually very difficult to improve upon them.

Ando says cholesterol-lowering drugs won’t become routine for kids anytime soon. Certainly not before Lipitor succumbs to generic competition.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

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