Statins: the secret data that decides if you get treated

You’ve probably heard that there’s a proposal to make even more people eligible for the cholesterol lowering drugs statins. I’ve just published post on the website HealthInsightUK that  puts a big question mark over the over the reliablility of the evidence that suggestion is based on.

It comes from the highly respected  but rather secretive organisation called the Cholesterol Trialist Collaboration, located in Oxford. What gives it huge clout is that it has gathered together all the big statin trials run by drug companies – all 27 of them – creating a giant database.

Its team of statisticians then analyse all that information and come up with findings that, because of the numbers involved, appear impressively reliable. Statins save lives. The more you lower cholesterol, the more lives you save. And now the latest one – statins are worth taking even if you haven’t had a heart attack.

But my research suggests that that the CTT is rather too ready to accept the reliablity of drug company trials. Crucially it doesn’t allow any other researchers access to its large collection of statin data. In other words if CTT produces a report saying “it’s worth taking statins even if you are over 70 and perfectly healthy” no one else can go and check to see how they came to that conclusion.

That goes against the basic principle of science; if you report a new discovery and give the evidence to support it then other researchers can look through it and test its reliability. Being able to do that is particularly important when drug company studies are involved because there is plenty of evidence to show that trials of a drug run by the company that makes it are more likely to report that it is safe and effective.

I spoke to independent experts who said that until CTT open up their secret vaults to other researchers to check the drug company data that the CTT are relying on, there shouldn’t be any major rise in the number of people taking a statin a day. Not only could they be less effective than claimed as well as more dangerous. That’s an important point when lots of people have to take statins for just one to benefit.

Several of the HealthInsightUK’s regular contributors have commented on the investigation. One intriguing idea is that the drug companies are actually delighted to have statins exposed as less effective and more dangerous than they have claimed because it will boost profits. Find out how that works here.

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