Merck & Co ceases study of cholesterol drug

Merck & Co., Inc. (NYSE: MRK) has ceased trials of an experimental drug three weeks after U.S. regulators banned the sales of the drug.

One of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world was working at cholesterol drug MK-0524A designed to reduce cholesterol levels. The drug combines the B vitamin niacin and a drug called laropiprant to limit the facial flushing caused by niacin.

The study of the drug used ultrasound imaging to monitor plaque buildup in arteries of people whose genes give them sky-high cholesterol levels.

The company suggests no link between FDA’s ban and termination of the study, in which half the patients got MK-0524A and half got dummy pills. The steering committee, which met on May 14, decided it was testing the wrong group of patients - people whose genes caused ultra-high cholesterol.

The committee comments the advice to stop the study by offering precedents, for example a controversial study called ENHANCE.