I noticed that Ed Silverman picked up on a statin study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) that suggests statins such as Pravachol — the drug used in the study — help prevent heart attacks for at least a decade after people stop taking them.

This caught my attention because I recently stopped taking Pravachol, a Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) product, after about 12 years because I started getting leg cramps at night. Since I stopped, no cramps. I wondered if my risk for heart attack would increase because I stopped taking the drug, so I was pleasantly surprised to read this story, especially because it was about Pravachol. [BTW, I will discuss this with my cardiologist on Tuesday.]

The problem is, if I had just read the headlines and skimmed Ed’s summary, I may have missed an important fact, which was pointed out in a comment to Ed’s post; namely,

“…there was a statistically significant increase in prostate cancer which went up as the years progressed… Prostate cancer developed in 89 on pravastatin versus 59 on placebo, a 51% increase, which is much greater than the 25% decrease in heart attacks. The authors stated that the increase was ‘probably due to chance and not causally related.’ A similar ruse was given for the finding from PROSPER of a 25% increase in cancer, where the authors said that it was due to ‘the play of chance’…”

The commenter was Doug Bremner, MD, a physician and researcher at Emory University and author of the book Before You Take That Pill: Why the Drug Industry May be Bad for Your Health.

Clearly, Bremner has a bias against the drug industry. He does, however, make a good point that “somehow” got lost in the original AP story and probably wasn’t mentioned in the NEJM editorial about the results.

It turns out that BMS provided at least some of the funding for the study and as ed points out “All but one of the researchers reported receiving consulting fees, lecture fees or research grants from a total of five other drugmakers, four of which sell statins.”

NOTE: Pravachol is off-patent and generic versions are available. Therefore, BMS may not benefit so much from this study as would other drug companies marketing statins.

It appears that the authors of the study went out of their way to play up the good news and play down the bad news.

According to Dr. Bremner, “I think it is time for these researchers to start playing by the rules of statistics, i.e. don’t use statistics only when it goes in your favor.”

I would have to agree with the doctor. Now, I am interested in his book and also may invite him as a guest to one of my Pharma Marketing Talk podcasts. If you read this, Dr. Bremner, give me a shout.