Study: Niaspan More Effective in Combatting Artery Thickness than Vytorin, Zetia

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A clinical trial has found that Merck’s Vytorin and Zetia cholesterol pills don’t treat clogged arteries as effectively as Abbott Labs’ Niaspan, a form of Niacin (Vitamin B3). Bloomberg reports:

In a clinical trial reported yesterday, researchers found a decrease in the thickness of artery walls in patients given Niaspan, while those on Zetia had no change. Artery thickness is believed to be a predictor of risk in heart attack and stroke because it restricts blood flow, the researchers said.

The results…could also pump up sales for Abbott’s drug, a form of niacin, or Vitamin B, that increases HDL, and mean less revenue for Merck’s Zetia and Vytorin, which combines Zetia with the statin simvastatin to lower bad cholesterol, or LDL.

Zetia…is designed to work in the digestive tract by stopping the absorption of cholesterol from food. Niaspan, by contrast, works by raising levels of high- density lipoprotein, or HDL cholesterol, believed to protect against heart attacks by collecting excess artery-clogging LDL cholesterol in the blood and taking it to the liver where it can be disposed.

Using Niaspan, with $786 million in sales last year, to raise HDL has been limited because the drug can cause facial flushing. Merck is testing a form of niacin in combination with an experimental drug laropiprant and will seek U.S. regulatory approval for the medicine as early as 2010.

A negative finding like this one could cut Zetia and Vytorin’s revenue by $800 million, or 20%, according to the article. It could also set off a wave of interest in niacin as a cheaper, more effective cholesterol-fighting measure.

The Mayo Clinic has more on lowering cholesterol with niacin.

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