A drug designed to prevent the build-up of atherosclerotic plaques in patients with coronary artery disease seems to do just the opposite, according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Although the drug, Daiichi Sankyo’s pactimibe, had already been discontinued from development, the researchers behind the study said the results were significant because they suggest other compounds in the same class, known as ACAT inhibitors, may do the same.

In 2004, Pfizer halted development of another ACAT inhibitor, avasimibe, because interactions were seen between the drug and other cardiovascular medicines, although other drugs in the class are still in development, for cardiovascular indications and also Alzheimer’s disease.

An editorial accompanying the report by Dr Sergio Fazio of Vanderbilt University Medical Centre suggested that the strategy of using ACAT inhibitors to combat atherosclerosis should be abandoned.

But Steve Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic, one of the lead investigators in the trial, said publication of the negative data is evidence that the drug industry is changing its ways, and not burying negative trials as it has done in the past.