Big Kahuna statins gobble up bigger share of cholesterol market

No question, statins are the big gorilla of the cholesterol-fighting drug market. And as Forbes reports today, that drug class is marking out an even bigger territory as time goes by. Over the past 5 years, statin prescriptions have grown by 17% to 214 million a year, while other cholesterol remedies lost 28% of their scripts. Now, those other drugs only account for 50 million prescriptions a year.

Along the way, several of the bigger statin products have fallen off patent, including Pfizer's ($PFE) once-top-selling Lipitor and Merck's ($MRK) Zocor, which together account for 57% of the cholesterol drug market. That's 57% of the 264 million-prescription pie--and literally tons of pills.

Meanwhile, other cholesterol drug types have suffered. The drug with the biggest drop in prescriptions over the 5-year period was ezetimibe, the active ingredient in Zetia and part of the combo drug Vytorin, which also includes Merck's Zocor. Together, these two brands lost 68% of their prescriptions from 2007 to 2012. And Niaspan, an AbbVie ($ABBV) drug that has stumbled in recent studies, slid by 20% in 2012 to 6 million scripts.

As Forbes points out, these numbers show that data matter. Outcomes studies have proven the worth of statins over and over, while research on other meds has shot holes in their purported benefits, safety or both. And that, in turn, shows that any new cholesterol remedies will have to earn their stripes once they hit the market. For instance, the FDA recently approved Liptruzet, a new Merck combination pill comprising ezetimibe and atorvastatin, the active ingredient in Lipitor. Given Vytorin's slide--and immediate skepticism about the new drug--Liptruzet may face a steep uphill climb.

- read the Forbes piece

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