(NaturalNews) Patients who take the cholesterol drug torcetrapid, intended to increase levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol and lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels, have a 58 percent higher risk of death than similar patients who do not take the drug, according to a study led by researchers at the Heart Research Institute in Sydney and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Researchers studied 15,067 participants, all considered to be at high risk of cardiovascular disease. All the patients were treated with the cholesterol-lowering drug atorvastatin, while half were also treated with torcetrapid.
Torcetrapid is marketed by Pfizer, as is atorvastatin (under the brand name Lipitor).
Patients receiving both drugs had a 58 percent higher chance of dying and a 25 percent higher chance of experiencing cardiovascular events such as heart attacks than those who were treated only with atorvastatin.
Torcetrapid is one of a new class of drugs called cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) inhibitors. Unlike older cholesterol drugs, which only lower LDL levels, CETP inhibitors are intended to raise HDL levels at the same time. The drugs function by blocking the action of a protein that transfers cholesterol from HDL to LDL, thus forcing the cholesterol to remain in HDL form.
In the recent study, torcetrapid was found to raise HDL levels by an average of 72.1 percent, and lower LDL levels by an average of 24.9 percent.
Scientists are still unclear why torcetrapid appears to increase patient death rates and heart attack risk. While the drug is known to raise blood pressure, many of the patients who died in the recent study actually had blood pressure levels below normal.
Researchers have hypothesized that the drug may increase the levels of a hormone involved in regulating blood pressure, and that this may lead to stress on the cardiovascular system.
Merck and Roche Holding have placed the development of their own CETP inhibitors on hold, pending the results of further trials on torcetrapid.