updated 11/15/2005 11:04:03 AM ET 2005-11-15T16:04:03

High doses of the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor were no better at preventing recurrent heart attacks and heart-related deaths than regular doses of the competing drug Zocor, according to the latest study on efforts to aggressively treat heart conditions.

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The study, funded and conducted by Lipitor’s maker Pfizer Inc., was prepared for presentation Tuesday at an American Heart Association meeting in Dallas. It also appears in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association.

Many heart specialists recommend aggressively lowering LDL cholesterol levels, the bad kind, to help heart patients avoid future cardiovascular problems. So Pfizer tried that with a much higher dose of its statin drug, Lipitor.

Although the effort failed to reduce recurrent heart attacks, it seemed to be linked with fewer strokes, a finding that echoes earlier research.

The latest study involved 8,888 mostly male Scandinavian patients aged 61 on average who had previous heart attacks and were given either a high dose of Lipitor or a standard dose of Merck’s Zocor.

The researchers didn’t find the main difference they were looking for — fewer “major coronary events” in the Lipitor group during an average follow-up of almost five years. That category lumped together cardiovascular deaths, nonfatal heart attacks and nonfatal cardiac arrest. These events totaled 463 in the Zocor patients and 411 in the Lipitor patients, a difference that was not statistically significant.

The results can’t be considered a direct comparison because different doses of the competing drugs were used.

Dr. Terje Pedersen of Ulleval University Hospital in Oslo, Norway was the study’s lead author. Two Pfizer employees were among the co-authors.

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