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ACC: Can It "Enhance" Merck And Schering-Plough?

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CNBC.com

The American College of Cardiology held a telephone press briefing this afternoon to help get reporters up to speed on potential headline-grabbing studies that researchers will present at the annual ACC meeting in Chicago at the end of this month.

In cardiologist and investment circles the most highly-anticipated results are from the so-called ENHANCE study of Merck and Schering-Plough's cholesterol drug Vytorin (a combo of Zocor and Zetia). Since the companies released partial data in mid-January, their stocks have taken a dive.

Because MRK and SGP had to spill some of the beans ahead of the conference, they were disqualified from presenting the results at ACC as a prestigious and prominent "late-breaker." As ACC President Dr. James Dove said on the conference call: "We have very rigid criteria on data releases for late-breaking trials. We're not complaining about the fact that it needed to be released. It's a very interesting and important clinical trial. That's why we put it in this main showcase session. It isn't a late-breaker, but it's sort of being functioned in that way."

So, the updated data will be presented Sunday morning, March 30th, in a huge auditorium. And then a handful of handpicked rock-star docs will lead a roundtable discussion of the results. ACC '08 conference chairman Dr. Marc Shelton, who will be moderating the session, said: "The goal that we've given the panel members is to at the end of the discussion come up with a recommendation on how they would treat patients when they go home (from the conference) on Wednesday evening."

That could have a real-world impact on the thousands of cardiologists who will be attending ACC. As of today, officials say 16,600 people have pre-registered for the conference, already up 29 percent from last year's ACC meeting in New Orleans. ACC, by the way, was the first major medical group to go back to NOLA after Katrina. Officials say because thousands of cardiologists live and work within an easy driving distance from Chicago that they expect the attendance number to climb even higher.

Analysts, some of whom think the market overreacted to the ENHANCE results, say Vytorin/Zetia prescriptions have stabilized recently. The companies, analysts and investors will be closely watching the results and measuring physician reaction to them to try to determine if they might enhance a rebound in sales.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com