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A study released yesterday shows evidence that the blockbuster cholesterol medication Vytorin is not anymore effective than generic Zocor. Vytorin, a combination of Zetia and Zocor, is prescribed over 100,000 times each day generating over $5 billion in annual sales for Merck and Schering-Plough. Vytorin was shown to lower bad cholesterol levels better than Zocor alone, but showed no measurable increase in the reduction of artery plaque, a key indicator in the progression toward heart disease. The study suggest that Vytorin, which costs around $3 per pill, is no more effective than Zocor alone, which cost less than one third of the price.

The study was actually completed in April of 2006 but was not analyzed until now. This is now the subject of a congressional investigation.

“This drug doesn’t work. Period. It just doesn’t work,” said Steven Nissen, head of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic. U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat helping to lead a congressional investigation of the study, said, “It is easy to conclude that Merck and Schering-Plough intentionally sought to delay the release of this data.” Investors voted with their feet, pushing Schering-Plough shares down 8% and Merck shares off 1%.

The clinical outcomes of the study are possibly the most surprising point of the study suggesting that Vytorin may actually be doing more harm than good when it comes to cardiovascular problems. Vytorin was shown to have slightly higher numbers of heart attacks, strokes, and revascularizations.

I don’t know what the future will hold for Vytorin, but I am sure that it looks a little less bright today than it did just a few days ago.

For more information on this subject, please refer to the section on Drugs, Medical Devices and Implants.

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