Researchers 'stunned' to find approved cholesterol drug has negligible effect

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The National Institutes of Health announced it is ending its study of the cholesterol drug Niaspan 18 months early. Tracking results showed the medication had almost no chance of being beneficial to patients, researchers found.

Conventional wisdom among researchers and physicians was that people with high levels of high-density lipoproteins (“good” cholesterol) in their blood live longer. Thus, combining cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, such as Zocor and Lipitor, with the HDL-boosting vitamin niacin could benefit patients.

However, the NIH study, which followed 3,414 participants, found that niacin offered no benefits over statin therapy, according to The New York Times. What's more, the study showed that Niaspan did not appear to prevent heart attacks. In fact, it slightly increased the risk of stroke when combined with Zocor.
“We were stunned, to say the least,” investigator William E. Boden, M.D. told the newspaper.
Researchers were surprised since niacin appeared to be helping study participants with higher levels of HDL. But by the end of the trial, patients taking Zocor and niacin did not perform any better than patients taking Zocor alone.

This could be good news for heart patients who could not tolerate niacin's side effects, such as flushing and headaches. But, experts noted, the results could hurt drug manufacturers that have long been looking for ways to improve statin treatment. Abbott Laboratories, which manufactures Niaspan, had $927 million in sales of the drug last year alone.

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