'Statins harmful' article may have put lives at risk, claims academic
Published 16/05/2014 | 02:30
PATIENTS could have put themselves at greater risk of heart attacks and strokes, after warnings that research overstated the harmful side effects of statins by more than 20 times, were ignored for months by a trusted medical journal, an Oxford academic has said.
Two experts have now withdrawn their statements about the harmful consequences of taking statins after they accepted that research which claimed the drug caused higher rates of diabetes, tiredness and muscle pain was incorrect.
But Rory Collins, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Oxford, said the months of delays it took for the British Medical Journal (BMJ) to admit the error could have meant patients who would have benefited from statins, such as those at risk of heart attacks, trusted the research and therefore stopped taking the drug.
"The journal allowed these authors to repeat these misrepresentations of evidence," he told the Today programme on the BBC.
"They repeated these a number of times despite the error being pointed out."
Mr Collins said he first highlighted the error to the editor of the BMJ in December, but that it had taken months to be corrected.
He said large-scale placebo trials of more than 100,000 people have shown that statins are generally safe, with a low risk of side effects.
John Abramson, of Harvard medical school, has admitted claims contained in his paper that 20pc of patients on statins suffered side effects were flawed. He has now withdrawn the statements.
Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist in Croydon, repeated the findings and has now also redacted claims submitted in a paper to the BMJ.
Rory Collins added: "They overestimated the side effects of statins by more than 20 times.
"By misrepresenting this it may have meant people stopped taking them or high risk patients don't start taking them in the first place.
"It's a shame that this correction hasn't been more warm-hearted and appropriate."
Fiona Godlee, editor-in-chief of the BMJ, said the journal had made a public retraction, so patients who could benefit from taking statins were not deterred from doing so because of the flawed claims.
"I've invited a panel to make a decision about whether we need to do more than we have done," she said.
She said that the error was contained in one statement which was published in two separate articles, which had been edited and peer-reviewed.
However, despite admitting the flaw in the research, she said she felt more needed to be done before statins could be declared safe.
"This is a very serious public health issue talking about massively extending the use of these drugs to healthy people," added Dr Godlee.
Dr Abramson's main claim, that healthier patients did not reduce their risk of death by taking statins, has not been withdrawn but will also be considered by the independent panel. (© Daily Telegraph, London)