Abbott study of Niaspan against Merck's Zetia halted

Published: 7/9/2009 9:15 AM | Updated: 7/9/2009 9:16 AM

A study comparing Abbott Laboratories' cholesterol drug Niaspan with Merck & Co. and Schering-Plough Corp.'s Zetia was ended early, for reasons unrelated to patients' safety.

The study, called ARBITER 6 HALTS, ended after a decision "based on results of a prespecified, blinded interim analysis," according to a posting in the National Institutes of Health's clinical trials database. "It was not stopped due to safety concerns." The research was funded by Libertyville Township-based Abbott and conducted at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington.

Researchers looked at whether using Niaspan to raise HDL cholesterol was more effective than lowering LDL cholesterol with Zetia, judging by the thickness of patients' neck arteries. Positive results for Niaspan may boost Abbott's earnings by 2 percent in 2012 and add as much as $400 million in sales, Larry Biegelsen, an analyst with Wells Fargo Securities LLC in New York, said in a note to clients today.

"We think Niaspan likely performed better than Zetia in the HALTS study," Biegelsen said. "A positive result for Niaspan and Simcor in HALTS could represent upside potential to our Abbott estimates."

The Simcor drug combines Niaspan and the older cholesterol pill simvastatin. Niaspan had $786 million in sales last year. Sales of Zetia fell 22 percent in the U.S. to $310 million in the first quarter, after a study last year showed the drug wasn't any better at unclogging arteries than simvastatin.

Abbott said it wasn't told by the researchers why the study was ended early and wasn't involved in the decision.