Bad Reviews For Merck's Proscar

Prospects for Merck's prostate-shrinking drug, Proscar, may be shrinking. The drug, used to treat enlarged prostates, is often less effective and more costly than surgery, according to a urologist's editorial in the Oct. 22 New England Journal of Medicine.

The editorial was based on data contained in the journal's cover article, in which Merck scientists reported on the successful results of their clinical trials of the drug. Dr. Paul Lange of the University of Washington, who was cited in a BUSINESS WEEK article last July questioning the drug's effectiveness, remains unconvinced. He also warned that using Proscar can hamper prostate-cancer detection.

In any case, prescriptions for Proscar are running below expectations. Consultant Hemant Shah now expects annual Proscar sales to peak at $500 million by the late 1990s. New prescriptions in September totaled 26,000, up just 4,000 from August, and a fraction of what analysts had at first expected.