Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Welcome New Blog: The Science Business

Another mainstream media/journalism blog has joined the Pharma Blogosphere: The Science Business. It is written by Matthew Herper who is an Associate Editor at Forbes (see photo on left).

Matthew looks like a serious, no-nonsense dude! I don't expect to see frivolous posts about the shelf-life of men or scary commercials from this guy.

According to Matthew: "The Science Business [is] a blog focusing on how companies affect and are affected by research in biology, medicine, chemistry and physics. Biotech and pharmaceutical firms, whose stocks trade on research results, will be a primary focus here, but I'll try to cast a wide net for other kinds of science as well."

Here's Matthew's first post:

First, a look at one of the most puzzling mysteries in pharmaceutical science right now: Why did Pfizer's drug to boost good cholesterol, torcetrapib, fail, and does that mean similar pills from Merck and Roche are goners as well? New data on Merck's pill provides some clues.

Torcetrapib was supposed to be Pfizer's savior when its Lipitor goes off patent three years from now. High levels of good cholesterol, also known as HDL or high-density lipoprotein, seem to protect the heart by carrying heart-attack-causing artery plaque out of the body, like a garbage truck. Torcetrapib boosted HDL 60% or more.

But the torcetrapib actually seems to have caused deaths in a big clinical trial, and nobody knows why. This could be because torcetrapib boosted blood pressure, a known risk for heart attacks, but it could also be the HDL it produced, instead of preventing heart disease, actually caused it.

How could that happen? Torcetrapib -- and similar drugs from Roche and Merck -- raise HDL by blocking the cholesterol ester transfer protein (CETP). Doing this raises blood levels of HDL, but the HDL may actually be full of cholesterol. The result is kind of like having a lot of garbage trucks on the street, but they're all full.

If raising cholesterol by blocking CETP out of the water were a good thing, Merck's drug would have blown torcetrapib out of the water. Because their drug doesn't raise blood pressure, Merck scientists were able to boost good cholesterol 130%, and cut bad cholesterol, or LDL, by 40% -- as much as a low dose of Lipitor.

So was this good cholesterol, well, good? One marker of heart disease risk is a protein called lp-a; the Merck drug lowered that. But it didn't affect C-reactive protein, or CRP, which a measure of how inflamed artery plaque is. More inflammation means the plaque is more likely to burst and cause a heart attack. So maybe the cholesterol wasn't so good. More information on CETP-blocking drugs should emerge at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association in a month.

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