NEJM: Stents don't beat drugs in treating clogged renal arteries

A massive, 10-year study concluded that stents aren't any better than drugs in treating clogged renal arteries. Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), Abbott ($ABT), Medtronic ($MDT) and Boston Scientific ($BSX) all make products in this space, and we're betting they're not too happy with the findings, which could encourage doctors to rely more on drug treatments first.

The New England Journal of Medicine published the results, and researchers also presented their findings at the American Heart Association 2013 annual meeting in Dallas. Bloomberg wrote about the highlights and touched on the study's potential implications for manufacturers of renal stents.

As Bloomberg explained, the 947-patient trial comes in the wake of two earlier studies that also concluded renal stenting and aggressive drug therapy were about equal in terms of opening clogged renal arteries, a condition doctors have tied to everything from kidney damage to high blood pressure. Previously, doctors have downplayed those studies because of research flaws, the story explained. But this time could be different, Dr. Christopher Cooper, the study's lead author and chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of Toledo in Ohio, said in a statement.

"Renal artery stenting for this condition remains a common practice because while several smaller studies showed negative results, other research has suggested the procedure may help lower blood pressure and stabilize kidney function," he said. "Our larger study demonstrates that this procedure offers no incremental benefit when added to treatment with medication."

But rather than eliminate the stent treatment outright, the results show that drugs make a better first treatment option for patients with clogged renal arteries, Michael Jaff, chairman of the Massachusetts General Hospital's Institute for Heart, Vascular and Stroke Care, told Bloomberg.

"The medical regimen that was offered is inexpensive, most of it is generic, the compliance is good because it's mainly once daily dosing, and it works," he said to the news agency.

The National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, which helped fund the study, noted a 364% jump in renal artery stenting procedures for Medicare patients from 1996 through 2000.

In addition to the NIH, Pfizer ($PFE) and Johnson & Johnson also contributed study funding, Bloomberg said.

- read the NIH release
- here's the full Bloomberg story
- check out the study in the NEJM

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