In February 2007, researchers from the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles, lead by Dr. Loren Laine, reported that a new arthritis drug made by Merck & Co. causes fewer stomach disorders and complications than an older painkiller. The drug etoricoxib, sold as Arcoxia, analyzed the results of three clinical trials to assess the drug’s safety as compared with diclofenac, a NSAID. The team reported their finding in The Lancet medical journal.

Arcoxia is a COX-2 inhibitor while diclofenac belongs to the class of NSAIDs, which includes aspirin and ibuprofen. NSAIDs, which are taken by arthritis patients, relieve pain by blocking the action of enzymes which control inflammatory responses. Although they are effective, the drugs can cause ulcers and dangerous stomach bleeding.

The meta-analysis’ results indicated that the rate of clinically important upper gastrointestinal events was lower with the COX-2 selective inhibitor etoricoxib than it was with the traditional NSAID diclofenac. There were remarkably fewer ulcers in patients taking the new drug, which was approximately half of the total 35,000 arthritis patients treated in the trials.

In addition, a study published in November found Arcoxia did not raise heart risks as compared to diclofenac, but Dr. Steve Nissen, an expert on such drugs at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, questioned whether it was useful to compare a new drug to diclofenac, which is known to cause many side-effects.

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