A heart drug that achieves $5bn of sales every year may be useless - and the manufacturer has been accused of suppressing the fact.
The drug, Ezetrol (ezetimibe), is designed for patients with inherited high cholesterol, but a new study that was paid for by the manufacturer, Merck and Schering-Plough, reveals that it is ineffective in slowing the progress of coronary artery disease.
The study was released only following Congressional pressure in the US, and many fear that this is yet another instance of a drug company deliberating suppressing bad news.
Ezetrol is heavily advertised in the US where annual sales have reached $5bn. Last year it was also endorsed by the UK's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which determines the drugs that should be made available on the National Health Service.
The study compared the drug with the cholesterol drug simvastatin. But after monitoring the profiles of 600 patients over a two-year period, the researchers found that only simvastatin was effective.
(Source: New England Journal of Medicine, 2008; 358: 1431-43).