Charlie Brown's heart problem
It never fails...
Lucy tells Charlie Brown she won't pull the football away, but Charlie Brown always ends up on his back, staring at the sky, saying, "Rats!"
That's what Merck is counting on with a new "miracle" cholesterol drug.
And it seems pretty clear that Merck executives don't really care if you and I and millions of others end up just like Charlie Brown, staring at the sky, muttering, "Rats!"
Five red flags
The new Merck "miracle" is so new it doesn't even have a brand name yet. So for now it goes by the generic name: anacetrapib.
Recently, Brigham and Women's Hospital researchers gave anacetrapib or placebo to more than 1,600 patients at risk of heart disease. In the anacetrapib group, LDL scores plummeted to as low as 45, while HDL scores shot up -- some higher than 100.
These are genuinely remarkable results. Unfortunately, mainstream researchers seem to be unaware (or CHOOSE to be unaware) that very low LDL can actually be harmful for some patients.
But "Low, Lower, Lowest" is their LDL mantra, so instead of restraint, there was jubilation.
"Doctors were stunned," reports the Associated Press.
"We are the most excited we have been in decades," gushed the lead researcher.
"We are trying not to be too giddy," giggled a Merck executive.
Okay. Fine. I don't know if he actually giggled, but the "giddy" quote is verbatim, and it fits the general tone of the AP piece.
Now...let's get real. Because when you look at this study, you see more red flags than when you were looking for gas in 1979.
First: Every single patient in the study was also taking a statin drug. If you have to take a statin for anacetrapib to be effective, then your treatment starts off in a dangerous hole.
Second: Anacetrapib is in the same class of drugs as Pfizer's torcetrapib. And even though torcetrapib did a great job of raising HDL, Pfizer abandoned the drug's development because of a high death rate in a clinical trial. (Just stop for one second to imagine how high a death rate would have to be for a drug company to abandon its trial.)
Third: The NEJM study does state that anacetrapib, "did not result in the adverse cardiovascular effects observed with torcetrapib." Certainly a better start. But it was a six-month study for a drug that's meant to be used indefinitely, like a statin. Anacetrapib is safe? Prove it -- with a long-term study and real data.
Fourth: The study was sponsored by Merck. No surprise there. But several researchers were closely affiliated with Merck through employment, by benefiting from stock options, as Merck board members, etc.
Fifth: The study was sponsored by...yes, the same company that put Vioxx on the market while hiding data about fatal dangers from the FDA.
Merck has already started work on a major anacetrapib study with a recruiting goal of 30,000 subjects. I wish those subjects luck. If history is any indication, I'm worried some of them might not make it out alive.
Related articles of interest:
About the author
Jenny Thompson is the Director of the Health Sciences Institute and editor of the HSI e-Alert. Through HSI, she and her team uncover important health information and expose ridiculous health misinformation, most notably through the HSI e-Alert.
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