Following a second article in the Guardian yesterday devoted to statin supremo Sir Rory Collins, his anger at his critics and impatience with the way the British Medical Journal is shilly-shallying around over getting their incorrect and damaging articles withdrawn, it seemed appropriate to issue a primer to bring non-statin specialists up to speed on this fascinating debate. And what could be a more appropriate format to use than the Guardian’s brilliant, very own and very handy Pass Notes.
Name: Professor Sir Rory Collins
Age: Nothing about it on Wikipedia but certainly old enough to have been on statins for some years
Appearance: Jekyll face: pleasant-faced academic. Hyde face: hard relentless enforcer of status quo. Don’t mess with me.
And what’s the status quo he’s enforcing? The status of statins; the drugs given to millions to protect their heart.
How can the best-selling drugs ever need protection? Actually it’s not so much the drugs as Sir Rory’s theory about them. His research has shown that they benefit practically everyone and have virtually no side-effects.
So what’s the problem? Give me mine. Trouble is rival researchers have been pointing to flaws in Sir Rory’s work and claiming that actually too few benefit and too many have side effects and Sir Rory has turned very Jekyll-like.
Incredible Hulk stuff? Biff! Bash! Bursting through walls? Metaphorically yes. He’s very cross with the BMJ, the medical journal that published the rivals’ research and demanded the critical papers be withdrawn. He’s told the press that this dissing statins could kill more people than the dangerous dissing of the MMR vaccine.
I won’t stop taking the drugs I believe in science and senior scientists like Sir Rory. Yes but the other guys are good scientists too and if they are right you and millions of others could have more chance of being made ill by the drugs than avoiding a heart attack.
But isn’t the point of big trials to sort out such questions? Indeed and the rival researchers have pointed out two important reasons why Sir Rory’s results may not be as reassuring as he claims.
And he’s going to Biff Bash them into another dimension? Well that’s the curious thing. He has ignored them and just keeps on calling for more action on the rivals’ papers. A conspiracy theorist might think it was a deliberate ploy to distract from the criticism by making a lot of noise about something else.
An eminent scientist engaging in conspiracy? I’ve no evidence of it but why hasn’t he dealt with these two points? First: One of his critics’ papers set out clearly the mistake in Sir Rory’s paper that meant it didn’t show writing more prescriptions would save more lives. Secondly: Why can’t anyone else see his “workings” as they used to be called in GCSE maths – the calculation that led to the conclusion? At the moment they are all hidden.
So less Hyde and more Jekyll? Quite
Do say: I’ve no worries guv. I’m on statins
Don’t say: Could you lend me 100 million quid to run a statin trial that pays proper attention to side effects and is transparent.