Another blockbuster painkiller, Celebrex, has been found to raise the risk of heart attacks when taken in high doses, the drug’s maker said yesterday.
But Pfizer Inc., which produces the nation’s best-selling pain medication, said it did not plan to take the drug off the market because it has not been shown to increase the risk of heart attacks at lower doses.
The announcement came just two months after similar concerns forced Merck to pull its competing drug Vioxx off the shelves. Both drugs belong to a newer class of potent painkillers called cox-2 inhibitors touted for causing fewer stomach problems than older anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin or ibuprofen.
Some doctors said they will urge their patients to stop taking all cox-2 inhibitors. “It’s very disconcerting,” said Dr. Stewart Greisman, a rheumatologist at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center. “We now have to assume it may be a class effect something in common with all the other cox-2 inhibitors.”
Bextra, another cox-2 inhibitor made by Pfizer, also has been shown to increase the risk of heart problems in people who have recently had heart bypass surgery.
The Food and Drug Administration, which has recently been blasted by government watchdogs and lawmakers for not acting sooner on Vioxx, advised doctors to consider using other drugs and the lowest effective dose of Celebrex.
Pfizer Chairman Henry McKinnell said in a statement that the company wanted to “rapidly communicate new information to regulators, physicians and patients around the world.”
But lawyers said Pfizer will likely face an onslaught of lawsuits over Celebrex, as Merck did with Vioxx.