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The surprising news made headlines in December 2002. Generic pills for high blood pressure, which had been in use since the 1950s and cost only pennies a day, worked better than newer drugs that were up to 20 times as expensive.
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Briana Brough for The New York Times
"The pharmaceutical industry ganged up and attacked, discredited the findings," said Dr. Curt D. Furberg, public health sciences professor at Wake Forest University and former chairman of the steering committee of the Allhat study.
"There was a feeling there was a political and economic agenda as much as a scientific agenda," said Dr. Michael Weber, professor of medicine at the Health Science Center at Brooklyn and a former investigator in the Allhat study.
The findings, from one of the biggest clinical trials ever organized by the federal government, promised to save the nation billions of dollars in treating the tens of millions of Americans with hypertension — even if the conclusions did seem to threaten pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer that were making big money on blockbuster hypertension drugs.
Six years later, though, the use of the inexpensive pills, called diuretics, is far smaller than some of the trial’s organizers had hoped.
Pfizer’s bet on Cardura proved a big mistake. As the Allhat data came in, patients taking Cardura were nearly twice as likely as those receiving the diuretic to require hospitalization for heart failure, a condition in which the heart cannot pump blood adequately. Concerned, the Heart, Lung and Blood Institute announced in March 2000 that it had stopped the Cardura part of the trial.