Saturday, February 06, 2010

Nature Medicine News Piece on Statins

The latest issue of Nature Medicine has this interesting News item on statins. A sample:

Dan Rader doesn't have high cholesterol. Nor does he have a family history of premature heart disease. But when Rader, who leads the University of Pennsylvania's Preventive Cardiovascular Medicine and Lipid Clinic, turned 50 last year, he started taking statins—just in case. “I figured the way to try to reduce the risk of coronary disease at 80 is to start taking your statins at 50,” he explains in between spoonfuls of low-fat black bean soup at the café in his research building. Rader admits that he is liberal about prescribing statins to his patients, too. “Statins aren't just for people with obviously high LDL,” he says, referring to levels of the low-density lipoprotein molecule, which indicate dangerous cholesterol levels.

An estimated 20 million Americans, and millions more worldwide, take statins, and the drugs may soon become even more popular. When the full patent for Pfizer's drug Lipitor (atorvastatin) expires in June 2011, the price could drop by 75%, from $3 to $1 a day. Currently the highest grossing drug in the world, Lipitor rakes in more than $1 billion a month in sales, and Pfizer has no other known cholesterol-lowering drugs in its pipeline after having pulled an experimental compound out of clinical trials in 2006 after it increased the risk of death. There are also rumblings that the US National Cholesterol Education Program's (NCEP) Adult Treatment Panel 4 guidelines, expected later this year, will recommend more widespread statin treatment for both high- and low-risk patients. “Let's put it this way: no one thinks the goals should get less aggressive,” says Rader, who is on the NCEP panel.