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Bias alleged in cholesterol guidelines: Doctors got money from drug companies

Bias alleged in cholesterol guidelines
Doctors got money from drug companies
Source: The Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. - Most of the heart-disease experts who this week urged more people to take cholesterol-lowering drugs have made money from the companies that sell those medicines.

Consumer groups on Friday blasted the new cholesterol guidelines as being tainted by the influence of major pharmaceutical companies that make blockbusters such as Lipitor and Pravachol.

Last year drugmakers earned $26 billion worldwide on cholesterol-lowering medicines, the top-selling class of drugs.

The new guidelines, issued Monday by the American Heart Association and the federal government, were aimed at preventing heart attacks.

They were written by nine of the country's top cholesterol experts. At least six have received consulting or speaking fees, research money or other support from makers of the most widely used anti-cholesterol drugs.

The new guidelines would add about 7 million more Americans to the 36 million already encouraged to take the pills to lower their cholesterol, said James Cleeman, coordinator of the National Cholesterol Education Program, which drew up the guidelines.

The program is run by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Cleeman said that regardless of connections to the drug industry, the advice to high-risk heart patients to lower their LDL, or "bad cholesterol," is sound science.

The new guidelines were based on results of five drug studies since 2001, and about 80 experts besides the authors reviewed and endorsed them, Cleeman said.

Cleeman said the heart institute would post information on industry ties of the new guidelines' authors on its Web site by Monday.