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Thursday, 4 July, 2002, 23:29 GMT 00:29 UK
Call for heart drug lifesaver
pills and glass
Statins produced remarkable benefits for patients
Thousands of lives would be saved every year in the UK if a heart drug was used more widely, says a landmark scientific study.

Some patients with a high risk of heart attacks already receive statins if they have high cholesterol levels.

However, a massive research project has found that many more could benefit from a greatly reduced risk of heart attack or stroke by taking them.

Estimates suggest that increased use of the drugs could save 10,000 lives a year in the UK alone.

The results of the research, while first released in November, were published in a medical journal for the first time on Friday, and could now prompt the UK's family doctors to hand out more statins to their patients.

However, the advance comes at a price - the treatment costs 1 per patient per day, much more than existing treatments aimed at reducing heart and stroke risk.

But leading doctors say that guidelines must be rushed out to doctors so that the benefits can be reaped as quickly as possible.

The drugs cut heart attacks by a quarter
The Department of Health must now consider whether to refer the issue to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice), which could rewrite guidelines for GPs.

Richard Horton, the editor of the Lancet, which published the results, said: "These findings should tear up the rulebook on statin prescribing.

"They are the most important and far-reaching results for the treatment and prevention of heart disease and stroke that we have seen in a generation.

"They should result in a dramatic change in clinical practice around the world."

Heart attacks

The study involved 20,000 UK adults with heart disease, diabetes or other kinds of arterial disease, who were given either a statin, or a dummy placebo for five years.

These findings should tear up the rulebook on statin prescribing

Richard Horton, editor, The Lancet
In the placebo group, 14.7% died during that period - compared with 12.9% in the statin group.

Deaths from heart problems were 18% lower than in the placebo group, and strokes and heart attacks were down approximately 25%.

Professor Rory Collins, from the Clinical Trials Service Unit at the University of Oxford, which coordinated the trial, said that the findings were clear-cut.

He said: "This shows unequivocally that statins can produce substantial benefit in a very much wider range of high-risk people than had been previously thought.

"These findings are relevant to the treatment of some hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

"If now, as a result, an extra 10 million high-risk people were to go onto statin treatment, this would save about 50,000 lives a year - that's a thousand each week."

Millions more

Sir George Radda, chief executive of the Medical Research Council, which met part of the 21m cost of the study, said: "Through a single large-scale, well designed trial, we have been able to identify a whole new set of patients with a variety of conditions who can be helped by statins."

The ball is now firmly in the court of the government, as there will be pressure to provide extra millions to cover the cost of the drugs.

Professor Sir Charles George, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, which also funded the study, said: "The clear message from this study is 'treat risk, not cholesterol level'.

"It is now important that we can turn this research into a reality for the many thousands of people worldwide who could benefit from these drugs."

See also:

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