Many more high-risk patients could benefit from statin therapy than currently receive the cholesterol-lowering drugs, according to a major UK study set up by the Medical Research Council and the British Heart Foundation. Patients given Merck's Zocor (simvastatin) were 33 percent less likely to develop stroke, myocardial infarction, or revascularization, even if their blood cholesterol levels were normal or low.
More than 20,000 adults with coronary or other occlusive arterial disease or diabetes took simvastatin or placebo for five years. The study results, published in the Lancet, indicate that five years of treatment would prevent 70–100 people in a thousand from experiencing a major vascular event. Long-term statin use was also shown to be safe, with no significant adverse effects related to liver toxicity, cancer, or other non-vascular hospital admissions.
The study's authors have called for new prescribing guidelines, so that all those at risk of cardiovascular events would be eligible for long-term statin therapy, including other products such as Merck's Mevacor (lovastatin), Bristol-Myers Squibbs' Pravachol (pravastatin), Novartis' Lescol (fluvastatin), and Pfizer's Lipitor (atorvastatin). A significant increase in the number of patients taking statins would lead to a dramatic increase in prescription expenditures, but the cost would be offset against the savings resulting from fewer hospitalizations.