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Merck’s Zetia, Vytorin Less Effective Than Niacin

November 16, 2009

A new study has exposed weaknesses on the part of cholesterol-lowering drugs Zetia and Vytorin.

In a recent study consisting of 208 patients, scientists looked at the primary ingredient of Zetia and Vytorin, called ezetimibe. They compared the ingredient to a B-vitamin known as niacin, which is available for much less than either prescription pill.

Researchers found that patients that were given ezetimibe had lower levels of LDL cholesterol, while those who received niacin had less blockage in their arteries.

“Together, the results available to date provide support for the concept that the use of statins to reduce LDL cholesterol to target levels with the subsequent addition of a drug to raise HDL cholesterol levels (niacin), rather than a drug to lower LDL cholesterol levels (ezetimibe), is a more effective treatment for patients at high cardiovascular risk,” researchers wrote in an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine on Monday.

The recent study is the third of its kind to show weaknesses of Merck’s Zetia and Vytorin.

In response to the recent studies, Merck says the public should wait on results from a much larger study that are expected to be released two years from now.

“The results of the small ARBITER 6 study do not, in any way, change our view of Zetia and Vytorin as effective medicines for fighting high LDL cholesterol,” said Dr. Peter S. Kim, president, Merck Research Laboratories.

“Nothing from this study, which a New England Journal of Medicine editorial says has ‘several limitations,’ changes the well established understanding that lowering LDL cholesterol is the primary target of therapy according to the guidelines. ZETIA and VYTORIN, when used as a supplement to a healthy diet, are effective in reducing LDL cholesterol,” said Dr. Kim.

“We encourage patients to continue taking their medication as prescribed by their physicians, and of course to speak to their physician if they have concerns.”

Zetia “has been on the market for about seven years and we still haven’t proven that it improves clinical outcomes,” said Dr. Roger Blumenthal, preventive cardiology chief at Johns Hopkins University.

Shares of Merck jumped 2.7 percent after the report on Monday.

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