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Cholesterol Drug Controversy Continues
Date:3/30/2008

Doctors debate worth of lipid-lowering agent that combines 2 medications

SUNDAY, March 30 (HealthDay News) -- A divided cardiology community is trying once again to make sense of a trial showing that a drug can lower levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol and yet give no apparent benefit to people at high risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

The drug, Vytorin, combines a well-known statin -- simvastatin -- with ezetimibe, which also lowers LDL cholesterol, but in a different way. A controversy erupted earlier this year when Merck/Schering-Plough, which markets the drug in the United States, released results of a European trial that showed the combined medication did not reduce buildup of potentially artery-blocking plaque deposits any more than simvastatin alone.

Those results and their implications are being discussed this weekend at the American College of Cardiology annual meeting, in Chicago. The New England Journal of Medicine, which will publish two papers and two editorials on the drug in its April 3 issue, is releasing the papers early to coincide with the meeting.

One paper by European researchers goes over the trial results again and comes to the same conclusion: Vytorin did not reduce plaque buildup any more than statin treatment alone in the study group -- people with an inherited condition that causes them to have an unusually high level of blood cholesterol and a resulting higher risk of cardiovascular problems early in life.

Then the interpretation of those results begins.

Dr. B. Greg Brown, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, who co-authored one of the editorials, said the results might not apply to the general population because "this population [in the study] had been treated for many years because they had a very high cholesterol level. That might affect their response to the new treatment."

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