Merck’s anacetrapib, a drug designed to raise levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, has impressed doctors following a recent study.

HDL cholesterol levels in patients taking the medication increased 138% during the 18-month study, while levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, responsible for clogging of arteries, fell 40%.

It is thought that anacetrapib could be prescribed as often as the leading statin treatments for heart disease.

A further trial involving 30,000 patients has been planned to test the medication’s safety and ability to reduce heart attacks and strokes.

Current HDL medications using niacin have only achieved increases of about 25% and aren’t widely circulated because of their side effects.

Michael Mendelsohn, senior vice-president and franchise head of cardiovascular at Merck Research Laboratories, said that the company was looking forward to continuing to study anacetrapib in a large cardiovascular clinical outcomes trial.