'Marketplace' Report: Cholesterol Chaos Four cardiologists are telling doctors to stop prescribing two popular cholesterol drugs. They say the drugs might not work and recommend taking an older class of anti-cholesterol drugs.
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'Marketplace' Report: Cholesterol Chaos

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'Marketplace' Report: Cholesterol Chaos

'Marketplace' Report: Cholesterol Chaos

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR News, it's Day to Day. Not just money, medicine, too. A panel of four cardiologists, had some startling news yesterday about two cholesterol lowering drugs. They do lower cholesterol, but the panel says, they do not improve the symptoms of heart disease. Marketplace's Nancy Marshall-Genzer joins us now. Nancy, what does this mean for consumers?

NANCY MARSHALL-GENZER: Well, Alex, the panel was looking at a study that said these two new drugs, Vytorin and Zetia, did not slow the growth of fatty plaques in arteries. Now, you probably heard this, plaque is closely correlated with strokes and heart attacks. So yesterday, the cardiologists on this panel told consumers, hey, Zetia and Vytorin should only be used as a last resort, and they said that people should take traditional cholesterol lowering drugs, known as statins, instead.

CHADWICK: And what does this mean, because there are other cholesterol lowering drugs coming along, yes?

MARSHALL-GENZER: Yeah and some people are saying, we need to do studies that get to the bottom line of whether these new proposed drugs do what they're supposed to do . I spoke about this with Doctor Peter Lurie of Public Citizen, and he said future drugs need to be tested a lot more thoroughly.

Dr. PETER LURIE (Deputy Director, Public Citizen's Health Research Group): What we need to do is to do more studies that are longer and have more people in them. It is not enough for a drug simply to be shown to reduce cholesterol. Vytorin and Zetia do that, but we really need are trials that prove that the drugs are able to reduce heart attacks.

CHADWICK: So Nancy, are other classes of cholesterol lowering drugs able to reduce heart attacks or not?

MARSHALL-GENZER: Well, Alex, I mentioned those traditional cholesterol lowering drugs known as statins. Now, they had been tested pretty thoroughly, and when I say thoroughly, I'm talking about studies that last for a number of years and involve thousands of patients. And these studies have shown that statins do cut the risk of heart disease.

CHADWICK: What about these four cardiologists telling us to steer clear of Vytorin and Zetia?

MARSHALL-GENZER: Well, one of the manufacturers of these new drugs, Schering-Plough, says that the panel at the cardiologists' conference was biased. Now, I spoke with Doctor Robert Spiegel. He's the Chief Medical Officer at Schering-Plough Research Institute, and he says one member of the panel assembled by the American College of Cardiology or ACC was biased.

Dr. ROBERT SPIEGEL (Chief Medical Officer, Schering-Plough Research Institute): We were very disappointed in the ACC's panel. It was a very unusual session. It really wasn't a panel, and it certainly wasn't a balanced discussion.

MARSHALL-GENZER: Now, the person Spiegel is talking about is Yale cardiologist, Harlan Krumholtz. Spiegel says Krumholtz worked for the plaintiff's attorneys who were suing Merck over its Vioxx drug. Merck makes Vytorin and Zetia with Schering-Plough. Yale is not commenting on those allegations.

CHADWICK: And Dr. Krumholtz, nothing from him?

MARSHALL-GENZER: Nothing from him, either.

CHADWICK: OK. So how will the conclusions of the panel affect sales of the drugs, do you think?

MARSHALL-GENZER: Well, Alex, preliminary results of this study dribbled out in January, and prescriptions for those two drugs fell about 15 percent.

CHADWICK: Thank you, Nancy. Nancy Marshall-Genzer of Public Radio's daily business show, Marketplace.

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