They analysed the results of three clinical trials to assess the safety of Merck & Co's drug etoricoxib - sold under the name Arcoxia - as compared with diclofenac.
Etoricoxib is a COX-2 inhibitor while diclofenac belongs to a class of therapies known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs, which includes aspirin and ibuprofen.
"Our results indicate 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," said Professor Loren Laine of the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles.
There were fewer ulcers in patients taking the new drug and more patients continued to take the treatment, she added.
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.
COX-2 inhibitors were designed as a safer long-term alternative to NSAIDs but have been linked with an increased risk of heart attacks.
Vioxx, an older COX-2 inhibitor made by Merck, was pulled from the market in 2004 after research showed it doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke in people who took it for at least 18 months.
Laine and her team, who reported their finding in The Lancet medical journal, compared stomach problems such as bleeding, obstruction and ulcers in nearly 35 000 arthritis patients in the trials.
source - Reuters