Saturday, July 17, 2004

Cholesterol guidelines called tainted

Authors got money from drug companies

By Linda A. Johnson
The Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. - Most of the heart-disease experts who urged more people to take cholesterol-lowering drugs this week have made money from the companies selling those medicines.

Consumer groups Friday blasted the new cholesterol guidelines as being tainted by the influence of major pharmaceutical companies that make such blockbusters as Lipitor and Pravachol. Last year, drug makers earned $26 billion worldwide on cholesterol-lowering medicines.

The guidelines issued Monday by the American Heart Association and the federal government were aimed at preventing heart attacks. They were written by nine of the country's top cholesterol experts. At least six have received consulting or speaking fees, research money or other support from makers of the most widely used anti-cholesterol drugs.

The new guidelines would add about 7 million more Americans to the 36 million already encouraged to take the pills, said Dr. James Cleeman, coordinator of the National Cholesterol Education Program, which drew up the guidelines.

Cleeman said that regardless of connections to the drug industry, the advice to high-risk heart patients to lower their LDL, or "bad cholesterol," is sound science.

But consumer advocates called failure to publicize conflicts of interest inexcusable.

"It's outrageous they didn't provide disclosure," said Merrill Goozner, with the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Cleeman and Dr. Rose Marie Robertson, chief science officer of the heart association, both said they thought that financial disclosure was covered because most of the authors also worked on the last guideline update, in 2001, and made their connections known then.

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