Despite the death of Pfizer’s new cholesterol drug, researchers say they are not abandoning their quest to find ways to prevent heart disease by raising levels of “good” cholesterol. Reducing LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, has been the main focus of cardiology in recent years, but boosting its counterpart, HDL, also has a salutary effect.
Indeed, Pfizer was intending to market the new drug with Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering statin that happens to be the world’s best-selling drug. But the development of the drug, torcetrapib, was hurriedly shut down on Dec. 2 because of an unexpected number of deaths and cardiovascular problems in patients participating in clinical trials. Pfizer, the world’s largest drug maker, had already poured $800 million into the venture.
Increasing HDL lowers event rates, while lowering LDL cholesterol does the same, explained Dr. Robert Myerburg, a professor of medicine and physiology at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine. “That’s pretty well-established. There’s good supporting data, and the rationale is there.”