'Legacy Effects' of Statins: 14% Reduction in Mortality

August 28, 2011

August 28, 2011 (Paris, France) — Long-term results of the Anglo-Scandinavian Cardiac Outcomes--Lipid-Lowering Arm (ASCOT-LLA) study, eight years after the trial officially stopped, showed that treatment with 10 mg of atorvastatin (Lipitor, Pfizer) reduced all-cause mortality compared with placebo, mainly through a reduction in noncardiovascular deaths [1].

Presenting the results at a hot-line session today at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) 2011 Congress, investigators observed that reductions in the risk of death from respiratory illness and infection contributed to the overall reduction in all-cause mortality. "The numbers are large, the data are convincing, but we have no definitive explanation to date for the hypothesized legacy effect of atorvastatin on noncardiovascular-death risk reduction," said lead investigator Dr Peter Sever (Imperial College, London, UK).

The study was published online August 28, 2011 in the European Heart Journal to coincide with the ESC presentation.

Chair of the hot-line session, Dr George Parcharidis (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece), asked, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, whether the data were sufficiently strong to support prescribing all young adults a statin for long-term treatment in the hope of reducing all-cause mortality. "They say that one swallow does not make a summer, and I would never advocate atorvastatin to young people on the basis of these findings," responded Sever. "But what these findings do demand is a prospective study in patients at high risk for infection to determine whether the presence of a statin could reduce serious sepsis or death from serious infectious illness."

ASCOT-LLA and the Long-Term Effects of Atorvastatin

The results of ASCOT-LLA were first presented and simultaneously published online in the Lancet in 2003 [2]. As reported by heartwire , lipid lowering with atorvastatin resulted in a significant 36% reduction in the primary end point of fatal coronary heart disease and nonfatal MI after a median follow-up of 3.3 years. At the time the study was stopped, there was a nonsignificant trend toward reduction in all-cause mortality. Upon completion of ASCOT-LLA, investigators continued to collect mortality data and evaluated the mortality outcomes in participants originally randomized to atorvastatin or placebo in the ASCOT-LLA arm for a median of 11 years.

At the end of the extended follow-up, all-cause mortality was significantly reduced by 14% (hazard ratio [HR] 0.86; 95% CI 0.76–0.98), and noncardiovascular mortality was significantly reduced by 15% (HR 0.85; 95% CI 0.73–0.99). There was no difference in death from cardiovascular causes.

Looking more closely at deaths from noncardiovascular causes, investigators found that deaths due to cancer were not statistically significant between those treated with atorvastatin vs placebo. There was, however, a significant 36% reduction in deaths due to infection and respiratory illness (HR 0.64; 95% CI 0.42–0.97), driven primarily by deaths due to infection.

During the session, Sever noted there are emerging data on the effects of statins on infection, with preclinical studies showing statins modulate neutrophil function, reduce proinflammatory cytokine release, improve vascular function, have antithrombotic properties, and improve outcomes from pneumonia and sepsis. Results of other observational studies have suggested that prior statin use reduces mortality from sepsis. Despite these observations, Sever said that there is still the possibility of confounding bias in some of the observational studies that have shown a benefit of statins in pneumonia and sepsis and that caution should be used when interpreting such results until a randomized clinical trial is performed.

Serious Decision for Primary Prevention Patients

Dr Guy De Backer (University Hospital, Ghent, Belgium), the discussant who also wrote an editorial that accompanies the published study [3], said that the introduction of statins into primary prevention is a serious decision considering that asymptomatic patients would be advised to take a drug for the rest of their lives and the only treatment benefit would be that "nothing happens." Moreover, there is little long-term safety data. For these primary-prevention trials, the mean patient age is 55 to 66 years old and the median length of statin use is just under five years, and yet primary-prevention patients would likely be treated with a statin for 15 to 20 years.

For this reason, the long-term ASCOT-LLA study is welcome, said De Backer. In primary-prevention studies, the most important clinical outcome is total mortality and quality of life, he added. One of the reassuring results of ASCOT-LLA is that the results confirm the benefits observed in the Scandinavian Simvastatin Survival Study (4S) and West of Scotland Prevention Study (WOSCOPS). In 4S, WOSCOPS, and ASCOT-LLA, there were significant 15%, 12%, and 14% reductions in all-cause mortality, respectively--all achieving statistical significance. He added that data suggesting a therapeutic role for statins in the management of pneumonia and sepsis are supported by observational studies.

Still, De Backer, like Sever, urges caution in interpreting the findings, especially because there is no explanation for the long-term carryover effect of statins on all-cause mortality but not on cardiovascular mortality. The data are essentially a subgroup analysis, and the reduction in all-cause mortality might be the result of chance, De Backer added. Quoting Dr Peter Sleight (Oxford University, UK), De Backer said, "Subgroup analyses are fun to look at, but don't believe them."


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