Are cholesterol-lowering drugs, such as Lipitor, successful? I guess it depends on your measure of success.
From a financial point of view, statin drugs are incredibly successful. Just look at Lipitor, which has brought more than $80 billion into Pfizer’s company coffers, since its launch in 1997. That’s financial success.
Do cholesterol-lowering drugs do what they are intended to do? Sure, statin drugs lower cholesterol. That’s success in the mechanism.
If you were the CEO of Pfizer, financial success would be important to you. If cholesterol were the cause of heart disease, success in the mechanism of statin drugs would be important to you.
But as Americans, who lose more than 600,000 friends and family members each year to heart disease, we don’t care about financials or biochemical mechanisms, we care about whether or not it is saving lives. Our question is whether or not cholesterol-lowering drugs will prevent heart disease? Do statin drugs lengthen a life span and improve an individual’s quality of life?
A closer look at the studies regarding cholesterol-lowering drugs is sobering.
According to one statin drug study over the course of three years, Lipitor reduced the rate of heart attacks from 3 percent to 2 percent. This means that your chances of benefitting from a statin are one in 100. Further, statin drugs have been shown to decrease heart attack and stroke by 1.4 percent and reduce the risk of death in those without risk factors by 0.3 percent.
You may be thinking, if my doctor was aware of these numbers he certainly wouldn’t put me on a statin drug! Hopefully, you are correct, but the odds are that he’s not seeing these numbers. What your physician is seeing are the results of clinical drug trials filtered and paid by the makers of statin drugs.
Seventy-five percent of drug trials in major medical journals are funded by pharmaceutical companies. Surprising, right? Statin drug trials are thinly veiled marketing pieces aimed at inflating the benefits of statin drugs. With a little bit of statistical manipulation, drug companies are able to embellish the benefits of statin drugs and pass their health-eroding products onto to unsuspecting doctors and patients. And don’t think that physicians aren’t susceptible to drug advertising either.
Pharmaceutical companies throw a lot of advertising money at physicians and patients alike. Since 2006, Pfizer has spent nearly $258 million dollars in advertising Lipitor, making Lipitor a household name and the first mega blockbuster drug.
At first, these drugs were marketed toward those with elevated risk factors for heart disease. Now they’re even pushed onto healthy Americans, young and old. It has even been suggested that statins be given to our children! I can see it now: “Don’t forget to eat your statins!”, If these drugs were harmless, it would be a different story, but as we will see tomorrow – they’re hardly harmless.