Prescriptions for the cholesterol-lowering drugs Zetia and Vytorin are written for almost 800,000 Americans every week, at a cost this year of about $4 billion. Yet it still is not clear how well the drugs work.
Nearly two years after the medicines’ makers, Merck and Schering-Plough, completed a clinical trial of the drugs, they still have not released the findings. The delay has led to a growing chorus of complaints from cardiologists. And yesterday, the companies responded by promising to publish a portion of the results next March — but not the entire set of data.
Together, Zetia and Vytorin have grabbed nearly 20 percent of the American market for cholesterol-lowering drugs, because of aggressive marketing from Merck and Schering-Plough that highlights Zetia’s uniqueness among cholesterol medicines.
Merck’s Zocor is now subject to cheap competition from generic simvastatin that costs pennies a day. But Merck can continue to command name-brand prices through Zetia and Vytorin, which both cost about $3 a day, similar to other branded cholesterol-lowering drugs like Lipitor. Despite the success of the marketing campaign, some cardiologists say they are concerned that reducing cholesterol through Zetia may not protect the cardiovascular system as much as reducing it through a statin.