Merck & Co has reiterated its commitment to cardiovascular research and highlighted some promising candidates, notably anacetrapib.

Speaking at a recent briefing in London, Daniel Bloomfield, head of clinical and translational medicine, cardiovascular, at Merck Research Laboratories, noted that while a number of big players have pulled out of the area, notably Pfizer, his firm believes it is still very much an area of unmet need. He said that despite medical advances, "death rates are still incredibly high, there is no question it is still important".

Dr Bloomfield spoke of the "incredible breadth" of Merck's cardiovascular pipeline, the largest in the pharmaceutical industry. He concentrated on three compounds, with anacetrapib taking centre-stage.

The drug is a cholesterol ester transfer protein inhibitor and is designed to raise good HDL cholesterol. Safety and efficacy data from the 1,800-patient DEFINE study for anacetrapib for the treatment of atherosclerosis will be presented in a late-breaker presentation on November 17, at the American Heart Association meeting in Chicago.

The data is eagerly-anticipated, especially as anacetrapib is in the same class as Pfizer's torcetrapib, development of which was terminated in Phase III in December 2006 due to safety concerns. Dr Bloomfield is confident about the safety profile of Merck's drug and he believes it can "change the landscape of heart disease".

During his presentation in London, Dr Bloomfield made special mention of the first-in-class thrombin receptor antagonist vorapaxar, which is in Phase III development and betrixaban, its oral factor Xa inhibitor for atrial fibrillation. Phase III trials of the latter will begin next year.

When asked by PharmaTimes World News whether betrixaban will have too much ground to make up on Boehringer Ingelheim's factor Xa inhibitor Pradaxa (dabigatran), which was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for stroke risk reduction in non-valvular AF last month, Dr Bloomfield said the Merck drug has a place. Within the class, he noted that "there will still be room for improvement, enhance safety and approve efficacy. We believe betrixaban is superior".