Patients with poorly-controlled levels of cholesterol have been given another treatment option after the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence issued formal guidance endorsing the use of Merck & Co/Schering Plough’s Ezetrol on the National Health Service.

Specifically, the Institute recommends Ezetrol (ezetimibe) as a stand-alone option for patients unable to take a statin, and that the drug be added to statin therapy in patients with poorly-controlled levels of cholesterol despite an increase in statin dose where possible.

Use of Ezetrol has been deemed a cost-effective use of NHS resources in both patients with primary heterozygous-familial hypercholesterolaemia, in which high cholesterol is caused by a faulty gene, and the more common primary non-familial form, where levels are boosted by a number of genetic factors combined with a patient’s state of health.

Hypercholesterolaemia is an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the number one killer in the UK, and Andrew Dillon, NICE Chief Executive, said that the guidance is “good news for those patients who are unable to achieve their target cholesterol levels using a statin alone, and good news for healthcare professionals who now have more choice about how they manage this significant risk factor.”

35% missing cholesterol target
Not only does the UK population have one of the highest average cholesterol concentrations in the world, but around 35% of patients with heart disease are not hitting government targets, underscoring the need for new, more effective treatment regimens.

Ezetrol, which works by inhibiting the absorption of cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract and is also sold under the trade name Zetia in certain territories, was launched in the UK in 2003 at a cost of £26.31 for a 28-day supply.