Whether or not you’ve been keeping tabs, the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting is less than two weeks away. ASCO, as it’s more commonly known, is arguably the single-most important event in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sector each year.
You might be straining for a reason why a mention of ASCO would find its way into a discussion about high-cholesterol medications, but the release this week of the hundreds of study abstracts from this upcoming conference have potentially shed positive light on a class of LDL-lowering drugs known as statins.
Statins: the gold standard in high-cholesterol treatment
Those with high cholesterol who are at high risk of cardiovascular disease really have five options when it comes to cholesterol medications: statins, bile acid resins, fibrates, niacin, and cholesterol absorption inhibitors. Despite this handful of choices, statins are the most commonly prescribed medication in the world because of their superior results in trials compared with the remaining cholesterol-lowering choices with relatively few serious adverse events.
Bile acid resins, such as WelChol, which is manufactured by DAIICHI SANKYO (OTCMKTS:DSNKY), have been shown to lower LDL-cholesterol by an average of 15%-20% in studies, but they haven’t shown any measurable effect in preventing heart disease or heart attacks in women. Fibrates, such as AbbVie Inc (NYSE:ABBV)‘s Tricor or Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd (ADR) (NYSE:TEVA)‘s Lofibra, work by activating a gene that encourages HDL-cholesterol production (the good type of cholesterol) while also breaking down triglycerides, which can cause cardiovascular problems if their levels are too high. Their effectiveness ranges from LDL-reductions of 20% to 50%, but fibrates also come with added complication risks and can actually raise LDL-cholesterol in some patients.
Then there are statins — of which Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE)‘s now-generic Lipitor and AstraZeneca plc (ADR) (NYSE:AZN)‘s Crestor are the best known and most successful – which work by inhibiting the HMG-CoA reductase enzyme, which is essential to producing cholesterol in the liver. By reducing LDL-production, these statins lower bad cholesterol and thus the chance that complications such as heart attack or stroke will arise in a patient.
However, some researchers and physicians think statins are overprescribed, which they suspect can lead to exacerbated occurrences of those aforementioned adverse events such as myalgias, muscle cramps, or gastrointestinal complications. This is why I think it’s noteworthy that an abstract study on the effect of statins on breast cancer mortality was released this week and painted statins in positive light.