Scientists Still Question Popular Drugs Zetia, Vytorin

Much-prescribed cholesterol medicines may not reduce risk of heart disease, death
By Clay Dillow,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 2, 2008 10:26 AM CDT
The cholesterol-lowering drug Vytorin, the product of a joint venture between pharmaceutical companies Merck & Co., and Schering-Plough Corp., has shown little effectiveness in clinical trials.   (AP Photo)
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(Newser) – Some cholesterol medicines have shown no indication they actually work—but that hasn’t stopped doctors from heavily prescribing them, the New York Times reports. Short trials of Zetia and Vytorin, known generically as ezetimibe, showed no evidence they reduced risk of heart attack or cardiovascular disease, while tests raised the possibility Vytorin is linked to increased cancer risk, exposing problems in the FDA’s approval process.

“The only place people should be taking it is in a clinical trial,” one doctor said, though 3 million do so each day and sales reached $5.2 billion last year, even as concerns led to a 40% decrease in prescriptions this year. Many drugs are approved based on “surrogate endpoints,” like proof they lower cholesterol even though they may not reduce risks of death or disease.