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Merck, Schering in Vytorin Victory

CNBC.com

The American College of Cardiology is weighing in on the controversial ENHANCE study that has battered shares of Merck and Schering-Plough over the past couple of days.

ENHANCE is the acronym** for the study that compared MRK and SGP's cholesterol fighter Vytorin (a combo of Zocor and Zetia) to Zocor -- which is now available as a generic -- alone.

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CNBC Investors' Edge:

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Most notably I think is that the ACC says, "There should be no reason for patients to panic."

(Read the entire ACC press release here.)

Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Tim Anderson writes in a research note to clients, "This [the ACC statement] is a major win for Merck and Schering-Plough."

That note follows his initial dispatch on the study which he entitled, "The most 'shocking' thing about ENHANCE was its impact on share price."

Leerink Swann's Seamus Fernandez hosted a conference call yesterday with four cardiologists from around the world to talk about the ENHANCE impact. In a note to clients this morning, Fernandez says he expects the study to "moderately" impact Vytorin and Zetia prescriptions.

Fernandez says all four consultants believed "a moratorium on the use of Vytorin/Zetia was at least exaggerated if not alarmist."

Leerink trades shares of Merck and Schering-Plough. And a part of Bernstein owns at least 1 percent of the stock in both companies.

The American Heart Association issued its own statement on the ENHANCE study results.

“It will be very important for those larger studies, directed at assessing cardiac outcomes, to be completed, so we can fairly assess the potential of ezetimibe [Zetia],” American Heart President Daniel W. Jones, M.D., said in the statement. (Read the entire AHA statement here.)

Anti-cholesterol drugs are the biggest segment of the pharmaceutical industry. Tens of billions of dollars are at stake. The fierce marketing battle between Pfizer's Lipitor, AstraZeneca's Crestor, Vytorin and cheaper generic versions of Zocor -- being pushed by insurers and pharmacy benefit managers -- has now been enhanced.

**(ENHANCE = Effect of Combination Ezetimibe and High-Dose Simvastatin vs. Simvastatin Alone on the Atherosclerotic Process in Patients with Heterozygous Familial Hypercholesterolemia.)

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