Scammed by the pharmaceutical industry– again

At this point, no one should be shocked to learn that customers have spent billions of dollars in the past few years on the new cholesterol lowering drug Vytorin, that has essentially been a waste of money.  Vytorin combines to cholesterol-lowering drugs, Zocor and Zetia.  Turns out that Vytorin has been prescribed like mad, despite the fact that there was no evidence that it was actually any more effective than many existing drugs at reducing heart attack, stroke, etc.– e.g., the whole point of anti-cholesterol drugs.  The newly-released data shows that while Vytorin lowers cholesterol numbers more than Zocor alone, it is not the least bit more effective in preventing the adverse cardiac events that is the whole point in taking these drugs.  Part of the problem here is doctor's excessive reliance on numbers, even when the evidence indicates there's a lot more to outcomes.  Heck, just from reading a few books in the past years, I was not the least bit surprised to learn that Vytorin lowered bad cholesterol without actually improving outcomes, whereas all the physicians who've been prescribing this very expensive drug instead of just-as-effective generics were shocked (shocked!) to discover its lack of efficacy.  From the Post editorial:

IT'S NO WONDER medical costs are skyrocketing: Companies such as Merck and Schering-Plough have been brilliantly marketing a drug that hasn't been shown to improve health.

The two manufacturers released the results of a cholesterol study last month that compared Zocor, a generic cholesterol treatment, with Vytorin, a drug that combines Zocor with another drug called Zetia.
Despite Vytorin's massive marketing campaign, the drug looks to be no
more effective at reducing artery plaque than Zocor alone, even though
Vytorin is three times as expensive as generic Zocor…

What explains this belated revelation? The Food and Drug Administration
approved Vytorin and Zetia for reducing LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol,
and they do in fact reduce LDL cholesterol more than statins alone do.
However, lower LDL cholesterol itself is not the final goal; the goal
is to lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. Only with the new
study has it become known that Vytorin and Zetia are probably not
superior to statins in improving health. Although another study looking
directly at their effects on heart disease and stroke is underway, it
looks as if consumers may have been throwing away their money.

The FDA could take some steps to prevent similar waste. When
approving drugs, it could make public statements to clarify whether a
drug is more effective than similar drugs and whether it should be used
first or as a last resort. FDA officials say this type of information
is sometimes included in drug labels, but drug companies often bury it.

For drugs that are the first in a new class, as Vytorin was, the FDA
could also request post-approval tests to show that the medicines do
improve health. Merck and Schering-Plough initiated the Vytorin
efficacy study voluntarily. But had they not undertaken a study to
directly compare their drug with a competing drug, and had a
congressional investigation not scared the companies into releasing the
embarrassing results, patients would be none the wiser.

A drug manufacturere does not have to prove that a new drug is any better than what's out there on the market.  Simply that it is safe and more effective than a placebo.  Doctors need to stop being bullied and bribed into providing drugs that cost billions more in the aggregate but do nothing for our nation's health.  FDA reforms could definitely help.

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