Pfizer Inc.‘s cholesterol fighter Lipitor halved the risk of stroke in patients with diabetes in a study and cut cardiovascular events, including heart attacks, by more than a third, researchers said on Sunday.
The clear benefits mean doctors should now consider giving so-called statin drugs routinely to patients with diabetes, according to investigators involved with the British clinical trial.
That could open up a huge new market for the cholesterol-lowering drugs - already the world’s top-selling medicines - and Lipitor in particular, which has annual sales of $10 billion.
“We need to shift thinking toward a presumption that most people with type II diabetes are likely to receive very substantial benefit,” Helen Colhoun, professor of genetic epidemiology at University College Dublin, told Reuters.
Type 2 diabetes, which typically occurs in adulthood and is closely linked with obesity, is one of the world’s fastest growing health problems.
It is closely related to cardiovascular disease, with two out of three sufferers dying from heart disease and stroke. Yet most of the world’s diabetics, estimated by the International Diabetes Federation to number 194 million, are not currently given statins.
That may be about to change.
The findings from the Lipitor study, which were presented at the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association in Orlando, add to the growing body of evidence favoring statins in the treatment of diabetes.
A similar study last year on Merck & Co Inc’s rival statin Zocor showed it cut the risk of heart attack and stroke by a third.
And it was already clear last June that Lipitor was having a significant impact when the British trial was halted two years early to allow patients on placebo to take the drug.
Now the full results of the study - sponsored by British charity Diabetes UK, Britain’s Department of Health and Pfizer UK - are being made available.
They show that a 10 mg dose of Lipitor, known generically as atorvastatin, reduced cardiovascular events by 37 percent in diabetics with no previous history of cardiovascular disease, while the incidence of stroke fell by 48 percent.
Current best practice is to use statins in diabetics only when they have elevated cholesterol levels or established heart disease.
But researchers say the British trial demonstrates that a much wider group of patients would actually benefit and statins could become a third leg of a strategy that already includes treatment for blood sugar levels and high blood pressure.
“We are hoping this will provide the necessary evidence base for policy to shift,” said Colhoun.
“The challenge is really whether there is anybody with type 2 diabetes at sufficiently low risk of heart disease not to warrant this treatment,” she added.
Revision date: July 7, 2011
Last revised: by Dave R. Roger, M.D.