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Research Into Safer Alternatives to Statins

Lipitor bottleCholesterol-lowering statins are among world’s most widely prescribed drugs, but concerns about Lipitor side effects, including the increased risk for Type 2 diabetes, has fueled a wave of litigation and further research on safer alternatives.

As reported by the New York Times, a new study has found another type of cholesterol-busting drug that may help prevent strokes and heart attacks, with lesser risk of adverse health outcomes. Unlike Lipitor and most statins, which lower LDL levels by preventing its production, Ezetimibe lowers this “bad cholesterol” by preventing it from being absorbed in the gut.

Ezetimibe a hopeful alternative to Lipitor side effects

The study lasted six years and involved some 18,000 participants who suffered from severe chest pain or heart attacks. The results were reported at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting last week. The study participants were randomly asked to take either a statin alone or a statin in combination with ezetimibe to reduce LDL levels.

The results were promising and translated into 2,742 events in those taking simvastatin (Zocor), compared to 2,572 events in patients taking the statin with ezetimibe. Basically, two out of every 100 patients who would have experienced a stroke or heart attack from statin exposure avoided those complications by taking the new combination drug.

The study chairman, Dr. Robert Califf, who is also a cardiologist at Duke University, said that researchers discovered no side effects from ezetimibe — making it seem almost like a placebo. There was no incident of muscle aches, headachers, cancer, diabetes or other health issues.

“Lowering cholesterol with ezetimibe, or a statin, or both, should each lower the risk of heart disease by about the same amount,” said Dr. Brian A. Ference of Wayne State University School of Medicine. Dr. Ference recently concluded genetic research that supports the results of this six-year study.

Lipitor diabetes litigation escalates

The findings are particularly relevant in the midst of growing concern about statin side effects in women. A wave of product liability lawsuits began to mount not long after the FDA cautioned that Lipitor and other statins had been tied to memory loss and a minimal increased risk of diabetes. This 2012 FDA warning was a wake-up call for thousands of female patients who were later diagnosed with uncontrolled blood sugar levels after taking the cholesterol-lowering drug.

According to legal counsel for the plaintiffs, women face a higher risk than males of developing Type 2 diabetes from using Lipitor, and manufacturer Pfizer was well aware of this risk, but failed to properly warn consumers.

A recent surge in Lipitor complaints came on the heels of the JPML’s decision to centralize all Lipitor diabetes lawsuits from across the nation as multidistrict litigation. The Lipitor MDL is taking place in Charleston, South Carolina, where the first bellwether trial is slated to be heard next July. Pfizer continues to stand behind the quality and safety of Lipitor and has vowed to fight all allegations in court.

Thus far, more than 1,000 cases involving the drug have been filed, but plaintiffs’ Lipitor attorneys speculate the docket could amass more than 10,000 complaints given the wide-sale popularity and use of the drug.