Cartoon: December 23, 2014

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Companies team up for new drug

first_imgTRENTON, N.J. – Merck & Co. and Schering-Plough Corp., partners looking to grab more of the $32 billion global cholesterol-drug market, will jointly develop a new medicine combining their Zetia with rival Pfizer Inc.’s blockbuster Lipitor. The planned drug, meant to reduce bad cholesterol levels in two ways, could hit the market when Lipitor’s patent expires in a few years, Merck and Schering-Plough said Monday. Information on when human testing would begin was not disclosed. News of the deal pushed up Schering-Plough’s shares more than 2 percent, while Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based Merck shares dipped about 1 percent. Merck and Schering-Plough have a seven-year-old joint venture that markets two cholesterol drugs: Schering-Plough’s Zetia and a combo pill launched in mid-2004 called Vytorin. It combines Zetia and Zocor, Merck’s former blockbuster, which lost patent protection in June 2006. Zetia is the only drug on sale that limits absorption of cholesterol in the digestive tract. Zocor, like other drugs in a popular class called statins, limits cholesterol production in the liver. The Merck-Schering-Plough joint venture promotes Vytorin heavily, stressing that it fights cholesterol in two ways. “We anticipate that the Lipitor/Zetia combination may be more effective than Vytorin on cholesterol reduction and could capture an even larger share of the cholesterol-management market than Vytorin,” analyst Joseph Tooley of A.G. Edwards wrote in a research note. Halit Bander, the head of New York-based Pfizer’s Lipitor medical team, said the company can’t speculate on how the new combination would work. Schering-Plough spokeswoman Mary-Fran Faraji said combining Zetia with any statin reduces cholesterol levels about an extra 20 percent, roughly three times as much benefit as just doubling a statin’s dose. “This will present, if it’s approved, an additional option for physicians and patients,” she said. “There are really tremendous unmet needs in cholesterol management.” Heart disease remains the country’s No. 1 killer and many patients are unable to reduce their level of bad cholesterol – and with it cardiac risk – as much as doctors recommend. Meanwhile, new studies reported Monday that a complementary strategy of trying to stave off heart disease by boosting good cholesterol didn’t work well and had safety problems. Lipitor, the world’s top-selling drug, currently is protected by two patents, one facing a legal challenge, according to Pfizer. It is not expected to face generic competition until March 2010 or later. Last year, Lipitor brought Pfizer $12.9 billion in revenues worldwide, more than three times the combined sales for Zetia and Vytorin of $3.86 billion.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more