Statins may help millions more people: study

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Nearly 20 percent more U.S. men over 50 and women over 60 stand to benefit from taking statins, based on the findings of a recent study on the cholesterol-lowering drugs, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.

Their research stakes out a potentially expanded market for statins, already the world’s top-selling drugs.

The so-called Jupiter study, presented at an American Heart Association meeting in November, showed that AstraZeneca’s statin Crestor dramatically cut deaths, heart attacks and strokes in patients who had healthy cholesterol levels but high levels of a protein associated with heart disease.

C-reactive protein is an indicator of arterial inflammation associated with serious heart risks. The study looked at people with high C-reactive protein levels to see if statins would lower heart disease rates.

Current guidelines used by U.S. doctors indicate about 58 percent of men age 50 and older and women 60 and older, or 34 million people, would benefit from taking statins to cut heart attack and stroke risk.

Dr. Erica Spatz of Yale University in Connecticut and colleagues used U.S. government survey data to see how many more people might be helped by statins, also considering C-reactive protein levels.

They said another 19 percent of men and women in those age groups — 11 million people — should be taking the drugs.

That means that all told 77 percent of Americans in those age groups or 45 million people should take the pills, the researchers wrote in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

“If the effects of this study bear out, the majority of people would be recommended to take a statin,” Spatz said in a telephone interview. “You need to use caution as we move ahead, especially because this affects so many people.”

The new study was not funded by the pharmaceutical industry, and Spatz said she is not advocating such an expansion of existing guidelines on who should take statins.

Fewer than half of people who could benefit from statins under existing guidelines are actually getting one, Spatz noted.

Crestor, also known as rosuvastatin, cut heart attack, stroke, need for bypass or angioplasty procedures and cardiovascular death by 45 percent over less than two years in the Jupiter study, which AstraZeneca funded.

Any future changes in statin recommendations could come from a group such as the American Heart Association.

“Certainly the Jupiter findings were intriguing and they will be evaluated as any future revisions are considered for treatment guidelines for reducing cardiovascular risk,” Dr. Timothy Gardner, president of the American Heart Association, said in a statement.

“A more in-depth study of further implications, including cost-analysis, will be critical in future decision-making processes about preventive measures for the population as a whole,” Gardner added.

(Editing by Maggie Fox and Eric Walsh)

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