UK & World News

  • 16 May 2014, 1:39

Anti-Statin Articles Face Scrutiny After Row

Academic papers questioning the benefits of statins and published in one of Britain's most prestigious medical journals are to be investigated.

The two articles, written by Dr John Abramson from Harvard Medical School and UK cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotraed and published in the British Medical Journal, were critical of the widespread use of the cholesterol-reducing drugs, claiming they could cause harmful side effects and did not cut death rates.

The articles were themselves strongly criticised, with one expert describing them as "misleading".

Statins are taken by millions of Britons considered to be at risk of heart disease, with some doctors arguing they should be issued as standard practice to certain patients.

The BMJ now says it is setting up a panel of experts to decide whether it should completely retract two articles. The authors have already withdrawn statements within them after some figures they cited were found to be incorrect.

The journal admitted the errors had not been picked up by editors or experts who peer-reviewed them before the papers were published in October.

BMJ editor-in-chief Dr Fiona Godlee said she wanted to tell the public about the withdrawal of the statements "so that patients who could benefit from statins are not wrongly deterred from starting or continuing treatment because of exaggerated concerns over side effects".

The withdrawal of the statements raised the question of whether the whole articles should be retracted, she added, saying: "However, as the editor responsible for publishing the articles, I have a vested interest in not retracting them unless the case of doing so is completely clear.

"So I have decided the right thing to do is to pass this decision to an independent panel.

"Meanwhile, the BMJ will continue to debate the important questions raised in both these articles: whether the use of statins should be extended to a vastly wider population of people at low risk of cardiovascular disease; and the role of saturated fat in heart disease."

Statins are currently available to as many as seven million people in the UK who have a 20% risk of developing cardiovascular disease within 10 years.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has urged the NHS to broaden those it offers the drugs to to cover people with just a 10% risk - the NHS estimates that statins save 7,000 lives a year in the UK.

Its recommendation follows a study by Professor Rory Collins and a team at Oxford University - the professor was the one who criticised the BMJ papers and called for them to be withdrawn, the BMJ said.

The independent panel will be chaired by Iona Heath, a former chairwoman of the Royal College of General Practitioners and a member of the BMJ's ethics committee.

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