Merck says "media hype" overlooks Vytorin value
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The chief executive of Merck & Co on Wednesday said negative media coverage of a clinical trial of the company's blockbuster Vytorin cholesterol drug has unfairly overlooked benefits of the medicine.
"With media hype, there is a great deal of confusion," Richard Clark told analysts in a conference call after release of the drugmaker's fourth-quarter earnings. He was referring to ongoing media coverage of the so-called Enhance study, in which Vytorin sharply cut levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol but failed to reduce the buildup of fatty plaque in neck arteries.
Shares of Merck and its marketing partner Schering-Plough Corp have fallen more than 20 percent since the mixed results were unveiled on January 14, and some prominent cardiologists have questioned the value of the relatively costly drug.
Vytorin, which combines cholesterol-lowering Zetia with the widely used older treatment simvastatin, is sold by a joint venture of Merck and Schering-Plough. The companies also sell Zetia as a separate medicine.
"There are no better products in lowering LDL than Vytorin and Zetia," Clark said. He said the companies have aggressively contacted doctors and insurers since the Enhance data were announced in order to promote Vytorin's value and have received favorable responses.
(Reporting by Ransdell Pierson, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)