Selling Statins in a New Way

In Featured Article, General Health

The marketing people behind statin drugs are thinking fast. Their patents are dropping off one by one and that means sales are about to plunge.

Just one year ago, sales of Lipitor reached a heady $10.8 billion.

But that’s not going to happen this year. That’s because it’s the latest statin to lose its patent protection. And it was one of the last statins to be patented. Now Lipitor will have to compete against low-priced generic versions. And that means the days of $10.8 billion profits are over.

But if there’s one thing that these drug companies are really good at, it’s making money. And they think they may have figured out a way around this problem.

The profits are down on selling these things as cholesterol-lowering drugs. So…sell them for something else. And as if by magic, a brand new study may let them do just that. That’s because it claims that statin drugs can treat flu.

It may sound like a bad joke, but we’re being serious.

What shouldn’t be taken seriously perhaps is the study itself. One quick review shows that it just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. It’s a sham study designed to grab headlines. And some credible doctors are speaking out against it. They’re saying the same thing that we are: That this study was shamelessly manipulated to get these bogus results.

Building a Case

The new study was headed up by Vanderbilt’s Dr. William Schaffner. And you can read about his findings in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

He looked at 3,043 people hospitalized with flu between 2007 and 2008. One third of them were treated with statins. The other two thirds were given antiviral drugs. And he found that people getting statins were 41 percent less likely to die than those getting antivirals.

Naturally, the media has picked up on this study. They’re reporting that flu patients who aren’t treated with statins are almost twice as likely to die.

But if you look at the study you’ll see it’s pretty much meaningless. It wasn’t a controlled study. And it didn’t compare the effects of statins against a controlled placebo group. Instead it just randomly compared two groups of people who had been hospitalized with the flu. One group were on statins, the other on antivirals.

But that’s not the worst part. The study didn’t account for other health issues – other than flu – that the (mostly senior) patients were dealing with when they were hospitalized.

So why would anyone conduct such a headline-grabbing study?

Here’s one reason…you should know that at the end of the study, researchers have to list financial conflicts of interests. And Dr. Schaffer has more than most.

In fact, he’s a paid consultant for:

  • Pfizer
  • Sanofi Pasteur
  • Novartis
  • Dynavax
  • Merck
  • GlaxoSmithKline

Mixed Reviews

The study has had a mixed reception from scientists. But certainly one educated expert isn’t buying the results.

“I’m not convinced that statins are protective,” says Dr. Jeffrey C. Kwong.

And he should know. He’s been doing his own research on statins and flu for years. He’s also a top researcher for the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Science in Toronto.

He’s says there are many underlying health reasons why one group would perform better than the other.

He thinks people who take statins already have some health issues. Because they’re dealing with these issues, they’re probably eating a healthier diet and exercising more to balance them. Thus they are a more health-conscious group than regular people. And that means they’re probably in better shape when they enter the hospital.

“The people who receive statins are inherently different from people who don’t receive statins,” he says.

Given the limitations of the study, that means the statins themselves may have made no difference at all in the outcome.

And yet, some doctors are excited by the results.

Dr. Cam Patterson is one of them. He’s from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

He thinks the results are great news and is eager for more trials to see “whether we should be giving statins to every patient who is hospitalized with influenza.”

But then again, this shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise either. Not when you know he’s a long-time paid consultant to Pfizer.

According to ProPublica – a Manhattan-based investigative news bureau run by the former managing editors of the Wall Street Journal and New York Times – he received almost $50,000 from Pfizer for “speaking” fees in 2011 alone.

Why You Should Be Wary of Statins

There’s no real proof to show that statins can treat flu. And plenty of evidence to show why drug makers would want to make even more money off their drugs than they already do. (See Statins Are Big Business.)

Statins Are Big Business

Statins currently turn over huge revenue for the pharmaceuticals. Until now, they’ve been the leading class of drugs in the US.

Take a look at some stats from 2011 alone:

  • 255 million prescriptions written for statins
  • $7.2 billion generated in sales for Lipitor
  • $3.8 billion generated for Crestor


Statins until now have been used to lower cholesterol and combat heart attacks and stroke. But the truth is, studies show they don’t do much to even help people with heart disease.

Recent studies show that statins don’t prevent heart attacks. When you look at the absolute reduction in risk (as we told you about recently) they only save about two people out of 1,000.

“That’s not clinically significant,” says Dr. Steven W. Seiden. He’s a cardiologist in Rockville Centre, N.Y.

He says prescribing statins to combat any health issue just doesn’t make sense.

“The benefit is vanishingly small,” he says. “It just turns a lot of healthy people into patients and commits them to a lifetime of medication.”

And another heart doctor agrees. Dr. Mark A. Hlatky – of Stanford University – says you should think twice about taking them for flu or heart disease.

“There may be long-term harm from healthy people taking a drug like this,” he says.

That’s because statins aren’t just useless against flu. As we’ve told you before, they can cause plenty of serious harm.

A recent study in the British medical journal The Lancet showed they increase your risk for diabetes. And other studies suggest they may cause memory loss, fatigue and nerve damage.

Tackling Flu the Safe Way

The truth is there’s a safer and much more effective way to protect against flu…and you don’t need to take a statin – or get a flu shot.

As we’ve often said, the best way to fight flu is to boost your immune system. And an easy way to do this is by eating wild-caught salmon.

Another great way is to get out in the sun for 20 minutes each day and enjoy some natural rays.

What do both of these things have in common? Vitamin D – and it’s a sure way to boost immunity. There’s plenty of scientific proof that boosting immunity is a big factor in preventing flu. So your best bet against flu is to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D.

If you want to be sure you’re getting enough, you can always get it in supplement form. Just be sure to take 5000 IUs each day.

Wishing you good health,

Ian Robinson

Editorial Director, NHD “Health Watch”