Controversy over heart drug for blacks only

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The Independent US

They are calling it the "black pill", a new heart failure medicine named BiDil developed in the United States solely for African-Americans.

They are calling it the "black pill", a new heart failure medicine named BiDil developed in the United States solely for African-Americans.

That American blacks suffer disproportionately from progressive heart failure is widely accepted. Some of the rea- sons may be socio-economic, but there seem to be genetic causes as well. Details of a study that shows the effectiveness of the drug for black patients will be published in The New England Journal of Medicine tomorrow.

The drug has divided the medical community. Dr Augustus Grant, past president of the Association of Black Cardiologists, said:"It's a delight to see a trial that clearly shows a benefit of therapy in a particular racial group."

Other professionals point out, however, that the study, conducted by NitroMed, the drug's makers, was restricted to African-Americans. Indeed, it was the first such study limited to one racial segment of society. It did not attempt simultaneously to study the effects of BiDil in other whites or Hispanics, making it impossible to know whether it may help them equally.

The pill seems to compensate for the lower levels of nitric oxide often seen in black patients. Nitric oxide in the blood can help combat the deterioration of heart tissues.

Critics contend that NitroMed may have had overriding commercial reasons to limit the study to African Americans in the hope that a "black-only" niche pill would prove to be highly profitable.

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