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Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 11:16 EDT

Statin Drugs Under Scrutiny

June 29, 2010

On Monday, researchers said they did not find evidence that cholesterol-reducing drugs can help extend the life of patients at risk of heart disease.

The study involved 65,229 people who were questioned about the use of the cholesterol-reducing drugs, also known as statins. 

Statins are the world’s top-selling prescription drugs.  According to health industry data firm IMC Health, over 238 million prescriptions for cholesterol-lowering drugs were dispensed by retail pharmacies in 2009, with more than $17 billion in sales.

“There is little debate that, compared with placebo, statin therapy among individuals with established coronary heart disease not only prevents complications related to atherosclerosis but also reduces all-cause mortality (death),” University of Cambridge and Addenbrooke’s Hospital researchers said.

However, the researchers said that “there is little evidence… statins reduce the risk of dying from any cause in individuals without heart disease. This, along with harms caused by statins in some subgroups, have called into question the benefit of statins” to prevent the development of heart disease.

Half of the patients took statins as a preventative measure and half took a placebo.  The follow-up research was performed for an average of 3.7 years.

There was 2,793 people that died, including 1,447 in the placebo group and 1,346 in the statin group.  The authors concluded that it is not a statistically meaningful enough difference to recommend preventative treatment with statins.

AstraZeneca’s Crestor was among the drugs studied.  If it was incorporated into treatment guidelines, about 6 million more people could be put on statins at about $9 billion a year.

“Current prevention guidelines endorse statin therapy for subjects at high global risk of incident cardiovascular disease as a means to reduce fatal and non-fatal vascular events,” the authors said.

“Due consideration is needed in applying statin therapy in lower-risk primary prevention populations.”

The study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine Journal.

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