Almost 800,000 prescriptions for the cholesterol-lowering drugs Zetia and Vytorin are written each week, but it is still unclear how well the drugs work. Even though the medicines’ makers, Merck and Schering-Plough, completed a clinical trial of the drugs two years ago, they have yet to release the findings. Responding to increasing complaints from cardiologists, the companies promised to publish only a portion of the data next March.
This decision is highly unusual and has increased concerns about the trial, as well as the effectiveness of the drugs. If Zetia and Vytorin are ineffective, patients taking them are increasing their risk of heart attacks for no reason.
Drug makers have received sharp criticism for failing to disclose trials that had negative results, and two years ago drug companies agreed to publicly register clinical trials in advance and promptly disclose findings. But they face few, if any, penalties for failing to meet those promises.
* New York Times November 21, 2007