Merck, Lilly say CETP cholesterol drugs can avoid fate of Roche, Pfizer disasters

While the PCSK9 drugs were hogging the spotlight for most promising new heart therapies at the American Heart Association meeting this week, Roche served up a heaping of new data showing why it had to kill the one-time blockbuster hopeful dalcetrapib. Once considered one of the most promising drugs in the Roche ($RHHBY) pipeline, investigators say the therapy did boost good cholesterol--but only while increasing blood pressure and inflammation.

That potentially lethal bottom line was right in line with Pfizer's ($PFE) experience. The pharma giant axed its program for torcetrapib almost 6 years ago after concluding that it also presented a threat to patients. And now analysts are fretting over the prospects for similar CETP inhibitor programs at Merck ($MRK) and Eli Lilly ($LLY).

Both Pfizer and Roche were quite bullish about their drugs after a quick round of midstage studies highlighted their efficacy without revealing the side effects that would eventually kill them. But Merck and Lilly investigators believe they know enough now to avoid a similar fate.

"What you have here is a weak inhibitor of CETP," Jeffrey Reismeyer, Lilly's senior medical director for evacetrapib, tells Bloomberg. "You need more inhibition than you can get with dalcetrapib," he said. The benefit of raising good cholesterol with powerful CETP inhibitors "is still an important question and one that hasn't been answered. This study doesn't reflect on our development or even Merck's."

"Based on what we now know with dalcetrapib and how far along we are with anacetrapib, the idea of having a deleterious effect is very unlikely," Yale Mitchel, associate vice president of cardiovascular research at Merck, told the business news wire.

- here's the Bloomberg report

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