3rd February 2019
A number of people have asked for my views on the Lancet Paper ‘Efficacy and safety of statin therapy in older people: a meta-analysis of individual participant data from 28 randomized controlled trials.’
It was reported in various major newspapers.
The Times reported the study thus: “Everyone over the age of 75 should be considered for cholesterol-lowering statins, experts have urged, after an analysis found up to 8,000 lives a year could be saved.”1
The Telegraph had this to say. “Researchers said up to 8,000 deaths a year could be prevented if GPs simply prescribed drugs costing pennies a day.”
This comes hot on the heels of a concerted effort to silence statin critics around the world by a coalition of ‘experts. I suspect the coordinated timing is more than a coincidence.
‘The editors of more than two dozen cardiology-related scientific journals around the world published an editorial Monday to “sound the alarm that human lives are at stake” because of medical misinformation.
These physicians describe regularly encountering patients hesitant to take potentially lifesaving medications or adhere to other prescribed treatments because of something they read online. Or heard from friends. Or saw on television.
“There is a flood of bad information on the internet and social media that is hurting human beings,” said Dr. Joseph Hill, the architect of the essay and editor-in-chief of the American Heart Association journal Circulation. “It’s not just an annoyance, this actually puts people in harm’s way.”
The primary example illustrated in the editorial is the use of statins, a cholesterol-lowering medicine that can reduce heart attack and stroke risk in certain people. But doctors say too many of their patients shun taking statins because of bad information they picked up – often from politicians, celebrities and others who lack medical expertise.’2
Essentially, they feel that certain issues, such as prescribing statins, are so vitally important that critics should be silenced. Perhaps all these editors should try reading this:
‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’
Yes, the US founding fathers knew the first thing tyrannies always wish to do is remove freedom of speech. From that, all else follows. If they don’t get that message, they should all be forced to read 1984 by George Orwell.
“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”
Getting back to the Lancet paper. What do I think of it? The first thing to note is ‘who done it.’ Well, of course, it was the Cholesterol Treatment Triallists Collaboration (CTT) from Oxford. Run by Professor Sir Rory Collins and Professor Colin Baigent. They do almost all these meta-analyses on statins, because they hold all the data. So, no-one else can really do them.
The CTT is in this hallowed position because they made a pact with the dev… sorry … they made a pact with the pharmaceutical industry to take hold of all the data on statins from all the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture statins and collate the data.
The CTT are very closely associated with the Oxford Clinical Trials Service Unit (CTSU) which is run by, and has employed, most of those in the CTT. Collins and Baigent etc. The CTSU is a clinical trials unit which, last time I looked, had obtained nearly £300 million in funding from the pharmaceutical industry for running clinical trials on various cholesterol lowering medications.
A fact that needs to be emphasised is that the CTT will not let anyone else see the data they hold. Including all the data on adverse events [side-effects] and serious adverse events. It is kept completely secret. I have the e-mail exchange between an Australian journalist and Professor Colin Baigent where the journalist attempts to find out if it is true that the CTT will not let anyone else see the safety data.
It starts quite well and the tone is amiable. Eventually Professor Colin Baigent clams up and refuses to answer any further questions. I have promised said journalist to keep this exchange under wraps, but almost every day I am tempted to publish it. It is toe-squirming.
Anyway, my point here is that the CTT is a horribly conflicted organisation, and has been paid, directly, or indirectly, a great deal of money by the pharmaceutical industry. Here are the conflicts of interest of those involved in writing the Lancet paper:
Conflicts of interest of statement from the Lancet paper: Commercial organisations in bold.
RO’C, EB, IF, CW, and JS have nothing to disclose. JF reports personal fees from Amgen, Bayer, Pfizer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Sanofi, and AstraZeneca, outside the submitted work; and non-financial support from Amgen, Bayer, and Pfizer, outside the submitted work. BM reports grants from the Medical Research Council, British Heart Foundation, and the National Institute for Health Research Oxford Biomedical Research Centre during the conduct of the study, and grants from Merck outside the submitted work. CR report grants from the Medical Research Council and British Heart Foundation during the conduct of the study; and grants from Merck, outside the submitted work. JE reports grants from the Medical Research Council and the British Heart Foundation during the conduct of the study, and a grant from Boehringer Ingelheim outside the submitted work. LB reports grants from the Medical Research Council and the British Heart Foundation during the conduct of the study. MK is an employee of a company that has received study grants and consulting fees from manufacturers of PCSK9 inhibitors and treatments for lipid disorders, outside the submitted work. AT reports personal fees from Amgen and Sanofi, outside the submitted work. PR reports a research grant from AstraZeneca during the conduct of the study; and research grants from Novartis, Pfizer, and Kowa, outside the submitted work. CP reports a grant from Merck, outside the submitted work; and personal fees from Merck, Pfizer, Sanofi, Amgen, and Daiichi-Sankyo, outside the submitted work. EL reports grants from AstraZeneca, Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Amgen, and Merck, outside the submitted work; and personal fees from Bayer, Amgen, Novartis, and Sanofi, outside the submitted work. WK reports grants and non-financial support from Roche, Beckmann, Singulex, and Abbott, outside the submitted work; and personal fees from AstraZeneca, Novartis, Pfizer, The Medicines Company, GlaxoSmithKline, Dalcor, Sanofi, Berlin-Chemie, Kowa, and Amgen, outside the submitted work. AG reports personal fees from Aegerion Pharmaceuticals, Arisaph Pharmaceuticals, DuPont, Esperion Therapeutics, Kowa, Merck, Roche, Vatera Capital, ISIS Pharmaceuticals, Weill Cornell Medicine, and Amgen, outside the submitted work. SY reports a grant from AstraZeneca, outside the submitted work. RC reports support from the Nuffield Department of Population Health, during the conduct of the study; grants from the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Medical Research Council, Merck, National Institute for Health Research, and the Wellcome Trust, outside the submitted work; personal fees from the British Heart Foundation and UK Biobank, outside the submitted work; other support from Pfizer to the Nuffield Department of Population Health (prize for independent research); and a patent for a statin-related myopathy genetic test licensed to University of Oxford from Boston Heart Diagnostics (RC has waived any personal reward). CB reports grants from the Medical Research Council and British Heart Foundation, during the conduct of the study; and grants from Pfizer, Merck, Novartis, and Boehringer Ingelheim, outside the submitted work. AK reports grants from Abbott and Mylan, outside the submitted work; and personal fees from Abbott, Amgen, AstraZeneca, Mylan, and Pfizer, outside the submitted work. LB reports grants from UK Medical Research Council and the British Heart Foundation during the conduct of the study.
As to the study itself. I wrote this as a ‘rapid response’ to an article Colin Baigent wrote in the BMJ about the study. It may be published, it may not be.
‘I would like to ask Colin Baigent one question on this study – at this time. He claims that the Lancet study was a meta-analysis of twenty-eight RCTs. The study was called. ‘Efficacy and safety of statin therapy in older people: a meta-analysis of individual participant data from 28 randomised controlled trials.’
However, in the Appendix to the Lancet paper it is made clear that five of the studies are a comparison of high dose vs. low dose statins. PROVE-IT, A to Z, TNT, IDEAL and SEARCH. They cannot be used to test the hypothesis that statins are beneficial in the over 75s vs. placebo, as they were not done to answer this question.
Also, in nine of the RCTs used in the meta-analysis there were 0% participants over the age of 75 at the start of the study. These were 4S, WOSCOPS, CARE, Post CABG, AFCAPS/TexCaps, ALERT, LIPID, ASPEN and MEGA.
Which means that five of the studies could not address the question of statins vs placebo in the over 75s, and nine of the studies had no participants over the age of 75, which leaves fourteen studies that would be relevant to the issue of prescribing statins in the over 75s.
My question is, why did you call this study ‘Efficacy and safety of statin therapy in older people: a meta-analysis of individual participant data from 28 randomised controlled trials.‘
Yes, they claimed to have done a meta-analysis of twenty-eight studies, yet they could only use data from fourteen to make their claims. The largest of which was the Heart Protection Study (HPS), carried out by, guess who, Rory Collins from the CTSU and CTT.
As for the actual data, it is the usual obfuscation, skirting as close to the direct lie as possible without crossing that line. I am just going to look at one issue. The main claim was that “statin therapy or a more intensive statin regimen produced a 21% (RR 0·79, 95% CI 0·77–0·81) proportional reduction in major vascular events per 1·0 mmol/L reduction in LDL cholesterol.”
A 21% reduction in major vascular events. That sounds terribly impressive. However, if you have read my book Doctoring Data you will know that what is most important here is not what is said, it is what is not said.
Do you see any mention of overall mortality here? No, you don’t. Which means that it did not change. Also, you may note this wording ‘reduction in major vascular events.’ What is a major vascular event? Well, it is mainly a non-fatal heart attack or a non-fatal stroke. There are other CV events, but they are much less common.
Note again, no mention of fatal CV events. If there had been a reduction here, it would have been trumpeted from the rooftops. Which means that we have no reduction in mortality and no reduction in fatal CV events. Of course, it is worth preventing non-fatal heart attacks and strokes, as these can be extremely damaging and harmful things.
However, there is something worth mentioning here that I have not really covered before. There are heart attacks and heart attacks, and strokes and strokes. A heart attack (MI) can be a crushing near-death event, leaving the heart severely weakened and liable to trigger into a fatal heart arrythmia at any time. The patient can be left a cardiac cripple.
Alternatively, a heart attack can be diagnosed by a marginal rise in cardiac enzymes with no symptoms at all, and no residual problems. Yet, both of these events, so completely different in their impact, will be listed as a non-fatal heart attack, with precisely the same weighting.
Equally, a stroke can leave the person virtually paralysed down one side, incontinent, unable to speak, eat, or move. Or, it can be a half hour strange sensation with slight facial weakness that fully resolves. Again, both these events will be listed with precisely the same weighting.
That is a problem in itself, in that these trials list events of completely different severity as being equivalent. It also leads into another problem, who is going to make the diagnosis of a mild heart attack or stroke – and on what grounds?
It will most likely be a doctor, and that doctor will have prior knowledge of whether or not the patient was on a statin – or placebo. Yes, I know, clinical trials are supposed to be double-blinded, which means that neither the participant, nor the investigator, should know who is taking the drug, or the placebo.
However, in reality, they both know full well.
I was at a meeting a while back where one of the investigators for the PCKS-9 drug Repatha was talking about the study. At one point he mentioned that a trial participant had told him that he knew he was not taking the cholesterol lowering agent. When questioned how he knew this, the participant said – because my cholesterol level is the same as it always was.
He still wanted to continue on the trial, because he thought we was doing a ‘good’ thing and helping to move medicine forward – and suchlike. I feel it may be considered churlish to point out that the only thing he was helping to move forward was the profit margins for Amgen.
The reality is that when you have a medication that has a significant effect, e.g. lowering cholesterol by 40%, this is a very difficult to thing to hide from the patient, or the doctor. They can see the figures on a computer screen in front of them. And when you are on a clinical trial, and you enter hospital, the doctors have to be told you are in a clinical trial, and what it is.
So, these double blinded studies on statins are not effectively, or even remotely, double-blinded. Which means that bias in clinical decision making is now an option. Was it a heart attack, or not? Well, they are on a statin – so probably not. Or, they are taking a placebo, so it probably is. Bias, the very thing you are trying to remove has crept straight back in the side door.
Another issue with an event is that there are many different sorts of clinical event. Death would be one – obviously. Breaking your leg another. Kidney failure would also count as one, as would a severe rash, or emergency admission to a hospital for almost any reason.
So, when a study states, as this one does ‘reduction in major vascular events.’ My mind, as it is now trained to do, thinks to itself: “ What about other events, what happened to them? Were they also reduced, did they say the same, or did they go up?”
Because if you reduce major vascular events, but other serious events go up, then you have achieved exactly and precisely nothing. This is a variation on pushing people off cliffs to stop them dying of heart attacks.
Results: ‘Pushing one hundred people prevented all trial participants from suffering a fatal heart attack. We therefore recommend pushing everyone off a cliff to reduce the incidence of heart attacks in the general population.’ A.N. Idiot et al.
Statins reduce major vascular events. [A major non-fatal vascular event could also be called as Serious Adverse Event (SAE)]. But do they reduce all serious adverse events (SEAs). If not, you are simply replacing a major vascular event with something equally nasty.
Which leads on to the next question, do we know from the statin trials if statins do reduce SAEs in total? The answer is that we do not know this, for sure, because the CTT has these data, and refuses to let anyone else see them. However, some data has not been censored by big brother. The Cochrane collaboration (before they started the sad slide to bias and corruption) looked at this issue – way back in 2003.
They got as much data as they could from the five major primary prevention statin trials at the time. Here was their conclusion on Serious Adverse Events:
‘In the two trials where serious adverse events are reported, the 1.8% absolute reduction in myocardial infarction and stroke should be reflected by a similar absolute reduction in total serious adverse events; myocardial infarction and stroke are, by definition, serious adverse events. However, this is not the case; serious adverse events are similar in the statin group, 44.2%, and the control group, 43.9%.
This is consistent with the possibility that unrecognized serious adverse events are increased by statin therapy and that the magnitude of the increase is similar to the magnitude of the reduction in cardiovascular serious adverse events in these populations. This hypothesis needs to be tested by analysis of total serious adverse event data in both past and future statin trials. Serious adverse event data is available to trial authors, drug companies and drug regulators. The other measure of overall impact, total mortality, is available in all five trials and is not reduced by statin therapy.’ 3
What does this mean in reality? Well, gathering it all together. Statins (in the over 75s) do not reduce mortality. They do not prevent fatal Mis and strokes. Whilst they reduce serious cardiac events, previously published results demonstrate they do not reduce total serious adverse events.
Which means that they are, wait for it, absolutely and completely useless.
Two plus two does equal four. Always bear that fact in mind.