Statin Benefits Exaggerated Yet Again

Media reports from the UK during the last 24 hours have suggested that the benefits of statins have been underestimated and the harms have been exaggerated. These reports are based on research done by the clinical trials service unit at Oxford University. The first thing to note is that although this research group is part of Oxford University, it is funded by the pharmaceutical industry. The group is basically a research facility for the drugs companies. 

The clinical trials service unit (CTSU) is run by Prof. Rory Collins. People who have been following the statins issue will already know Prof. Collins - he is the guy who tried to use his influence to have scientific papers critical of his research removed from the British Medical Journal. Prof. Collins first agreed to be interviewed for Statin Nation II, but then changed his mind and declined (see video excerpt below).

Now, Prof. Collins has published a new report in the Lancet, and both the Editor of the Lancet and Prof. Collins have come out making comments in support of statins - making a number of wild claims. In fact, the CTSU and Prof. Collins have for some time now been making claims about statins that no one else can substantiate because they refuse to let anyone have access to their data. The worrying thing is that the claims that the CTSU and Prof. Collins make do not in any way at all fit with everything else we know about statins. For example, the published article in the Lancet and the press release that accompanied it states that if 10,000 people took a statin for 5 years in primary prevention, 500 major vascular events would be prevented (5% absolute risk reduction). Well, that is quite different from what the actual clinical trial data tells us. For example:

The AFCAPS trial included around 7,000 people and found that the statin reduced the risk of a heart attack by 2.3%. But more people actually died in the group who took the statin. 80 people died in the statin group compared with 77 in the placebo group.

The ASCOTT-LLA trial included 10,000 people and found that the statin reduced the risk of heart attack by 1%. And if we look at the number of deaths from all causes, there was no benefit associated with the statin.

Numerous additional studies have confirmed that statin effects are within this ballpark - a reduction in the risk of heart attack by about 1 or 2%, but no actual extension in life expectancy overall. Looking at all of the data, the NNT group estimate that 104 people have to be treated for 5 years to prevent one heart attack (less than 1% absolute benefit). And again, no increase in life expectancy overall.

Prof. Collins gets much better results for statins than anyone else seems to be able to. No one else is allowed access to his data to confirm these ‘benefits’. The data is owned by the people who make statins. We can all make our own conclusions about what is really going on.