BMJ authors withdraw inaccurate statements on statin safety

May 19, 2014

The authors of 2 articles that were published last year in the BMJ are now withdrawing statements they made about the adverse effects of statin drugs.

The authors of 2 articles that were published last year in the BMJ are now withdrawing statements they made about the adverse effects of statin drugs.

In the first paper, John Abramson, Harvard Medical School, Boston, and colleagues, questioned whether people at low risk of cardiovascular disease should be taking statins, and they reanalyzed data from the Cholesterol Treatment Trialists’ (CTT) Collaboration. The contention of the authors was that in low risk individuals, the benefits of statins were less than has been claimed and the risks greater. In their conclusion and summary they noted that statins caused side effects in 18% to 20% of people.

That same figure was also cited in a second paper, from a team led by Aseem Malhotra, Croydon University Hospital, London, UK,

The statements regarding side effects are being withdrawn from both papers, but as of right now, the articles themselves are not being retracted, primarily because the reported 18% to 20% adverse-event figure is not their main finding.

In an editorial, BMJ editor Fiona Godlee stated that she has requested a panel of experts to review the original paper to determine if it ought to be retracted completely. "As the editor responsible for publishing the articles, I have a vested interest in not retracting them unless the case for doing so is completely clear," she wrote.

The panel will be chaired by Iona Heath, former chairwoman of the Royal College of General Practitioners and of the BMJ’s ethics committee, and panel members will include those with no “dog in this fight.” Dr Godlee has also requested that all submissions to the panel be placed in the public domain on bmj.com.

In her editorial, she also pointed out that the true incidence of adverse events associated with statins, for an individual at low risk for cardiovascular disease, continues to be disputed, and "that the BMJ will continue to debate the important questions raised in both these articles: whether the use of statins should be extended to a vastly wider population of people at low risk of cardiovascular disease; and the role of saturated fat in heart disease."