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A genetically engineered drug that was hailed as a breakthrough in the treatment of heart failure when it was approved in 2001 might actually raise patients' risk of dying soon after treatment, researchers say.

Pooling results from three studies, the researchers found that hospitalized patients given nesiritide appeared much more likely to die in the first month after treatment than those given traditional medication such as nitroglycerin or dummy pills.

The intravenous drug has been given to more than 600,000 patients nationwide.

"The public should be very alarmed," said Dr. Jonathan D. Sackner-Bernstein, a cardiologist at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset and lead author of the study, which appears in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.

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