A recent study appearing in the New England Journal of Medicine has questioned the effectiveness of the popular cholesterol medication, Vytorin and its sister drug Zetia. Vytorin, a combination of Zetia and the generic drug Zocor, is the second most profitable pharmaceutical manufactured by Merck & Co. The Securities and Exchange Commission reports that sales of Vytorin and Zetia have raked in an astonishing $21 billion worldwide since 2003.
Although ezetimibe, the active ingredient in Vytorin and Zetia, has been shown to reduce cholesterol slightly, its ability to unclog coronary arteries is less than that of niacin, a cheap B vitamin, often available over the counter, according to the article. Additionally, Vytorin and Zetia competitors have been shown to prevent heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases at a less expensive price tag, whereas Zetia and Vytorin have not been proven to do either, according to the study. In contrast to Lipitor, Zocor and other statin-type drugs which block cholesterol production in the Liver, Zetia prevents cholesterol absorption in the intestines. The difference between how the drugs reduce cholesterol has helped Zetia’s popularity, despite the fact its effectiveness has been questioned. Many patients have been prescribed Vytorin as an alternative to the unconfortable side effects of Niacin and other statins’ including liver problems.
This is the third study in the last two years that has cast doubt on the effectiveness of the pharmaceutical giant. Additionally, in August 2009, Merck and Schering-Plough agreed to pay $41.5 million to settle class-action lawsuits accusing the companies of withholding unfavorable information about the drugs. Due to their recent merge in Nov. 2009, both companies are responsible for the lawsuit. Vytorin has been linked to potentially harmful side effects, including a high rate of cancer deaths, according to a controversial study released in 2008.
These studies also question whether the Food and Drug Administration prematurely approved the drugs without requiring additional studies that illustrate the drugs’ effectiveness or ability to prevent heart attacks. Merck waited three years before starting a research study to examine the effect on heart attack rates among Zetia and Vytorin patients.
Additional studies will be conducted to further examine the effectiveness of the drugs, including heart attack prevention; however results are not expected to be available until at least 2012. Leading cardiologists have advised patients to use cholesterol drugs like Zetia and Vytorin only if his or her cholesterol levels have not improved with the use of other medications and life-style changes. Oftentimes, patients pursue a Vytorin lawsuit to seek monetary compensation to cover medical treatments due to cardiovascular complications.