Merck & Co said it had been forced to abandon development of a novel compound as a treatment for atherosclerosis after disappointing results from a Phase II trial.

MK-0354, which targets an unidentified G protein-coupled receptor, was originally discovered by Arena Pharmaceuticals and licensed to Merck in October 2002. The receptor is thought to play a role in regulating plasma lipid profiles, including high-density lipoprotein or 'good' cholesterol, and be responsible for the HDL-raising activity of the cholesterol-lowering drug niacin.

While there are many effective drug to raise 'bad' or low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, few drugs exist that can raise the cardioprotective HDL form.

In a statement, Arena said MK-0354 had not passed muster in the Phase II trial in dyslipidemia patients, and while it did not go into details, said the data “provided valuable information and add to our understanding of the niacin receptor as we continue to evaluate its therapeutic potential."

Merck will continue to develop the compound for other indications, although no other projects have progressed beyond the preclinical stage of development.