Will Abbott's Niaspan fall short of blockbuster sales?

Niaspan prescriptions are lagging in the wake of new data casting doubt on its effectiveness. The Abbott Laboratories cholesterol drug has seen scrips drop 3 percent over recent weeks and 7 percent year-over-year, Dow Jones reports. That's counter to Niaspan's history of steadily growing sales. And if the trend continues, then Niaspan may not gain the blockbuster status analysts long predicted.

In 2010, Niaspan brought in $927 million, and it was expected to surpass $1 billion this year. But as the news service notes, experts are now dialing back those expectations. In fact, Wells Fargo analyst Larry Biegelsen now forecasts a 20 percent decline in Niaspan sales next year.

The prescription erosion comes as doctors are digesting the news that a government-funded study was stopped 18 months early because adding Niaspan to statin treatment didn't improve outcomes any better than statin therapy alone did. The study also flagged a small boost in stroke rates among Niaspan users, but that could just be a chance finding. The big question raised by the new data, however, was about Niaspan's ability to boost levels of so-called "good cholesterol," complementing statins' ability to curb bad cholesterol.

An Abbott spokeswoman told Dow Jones that the company had been expecting the study to affect sales somewhat, but a few weeks of prescription data does not a trend make. Meanwhile, some doctors are saying they're already more cautious about deploying Niaspan, and at least one cardiologist said his own scrip numbers will be "sharply curtailed."

- read the Dow Jones coverage