Pfizer could be willing to market its eagerly-awaited heart drug, torcetrapib, as a stand-alone therapy as well as in combination with its multi-blockbuster cholesterol-lowering agent Lipitor (atorvastatin), according to a report in Forbes.

The US giant has previously said that it planned only to commercialise the therapy as a dual pill – in which torcetrapib works to boost levels of the ‘good’ high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and Lipitor acts to cut the bad low-density lipoprotein cholesterol – offering a greater cardioprotective effect. However, the report in Forbes reveals that doctors are unhappy about this plan, because it will force them to choose the Lipitor combo over rival cholesterol-lowering compounds, including Merck & Co’s Zocor (simvastatin), which is due to come off patent this year.

Hank McKinnell, Pfizer’s Chief Executive, told Forbes that the company would be prepared to pursue torcetrapib as a monotherapy “if the US Food and Drug Administration required only basic extra tests.” However, no such discussions have yet been entered into.

Pfizer is investing some $800 million in the Phase III programme for Lipitor/ torcetrapib as part of its bid to reach the market ahead of rivals also battling to develop a drug with a dual action on both LDL and HDL. Investors are banking on Pfizer getting the new combo approved before Lipitor – an $11 billion drug - loses its patent protection in 2011.