(NaturalNews) After a long and controversial delay, drug-makers Merck and Schering-Plough have released the results of a study showing that cholesterol drug Vytorin provides no benefit over older drugs in preventing the buildup of artery plaque.
Vytorin is a combination of Merck and Schering's drug ezetimibe - marketed as Zetia, Ezetrol and Ezemibe - and the statin Zocor. Because ezetimibe lowers cholesterol by a different mechanism than the older statin drugs, doctors often prescribe the two types of drugs in combination.
According to the results recently released after a controversial 18-month delay, patients taking Vytorin had a 40 percent larger reduction in cholesterol than patients taking Zocor alone, but there was no significance in the rates of plaque buildup, heart attacks or death between the two groups.
Study participants taking Vytorin actually suffered slightly more arterial plaque buildup, heart attacks, heart procedures and cardiovascular death than those taking only Zocor, but the small study size made it impossible to determine if those results were significant or due only to a statistical fluke.
To date, no studies have demonstrated a health benefit to ezetimibe or Vytorin, in spite of the well-documented cholesterol-lowering effect. Critics charge that the drug exposes patients to the risk of potentially dangerous side effects for no substantial benefit.
A scandal recently emerged when it was revealed that Merck and Schering had failed to publish the results of studies linking ezetimibe to liver damage.
"Physicians should only use ezetimibe or Vytorin as a last resort," said prominent cardiologist Steven Nissen. "It should not be used as a routine therapy for high cholesterol unless we see some additional evidence of benefit."
According to some researchers, the results of the recent study might have been skewed by the prevalence among the participants of a genetic disease that predisposes people to high cholesterol. This meant that many of the participants had already been taking statins for many years. But according to Nissen, the benefits of Vytorin should have been even more pronounced in such a group than in the general population.