A novel way to suppress the devastating side effects of statins, a widely used drug to lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease, has been found by McMaster University researchers. The research team—led by Jonathan Schertzer, assistant professor of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences and Canadian Diabetes Association Scholar—discovered one of the pathways that link statins to diabetes. Their findings could lead to the next generation of statins by informing potential combination therapies while taking the drug.
Approximately 13 million people, or half of those over the age of 40, could be prescribed a statin drug in their lifetime.
"Statins are among the most prescribed drugs in the world, and have been fantastic at reducing cardiovascular events," Schertzer says. "But the side effects of statins can be far worse than not being able to eat grapefruit. Recently, an increased risk of diabetes has been added to the warning label for statin use. This was perplexing to us because if you are improving your metabolic profile with statins you should actually be decreasing the incidence of diabetes with these drugs, yet, the opposite happened."
Schertzer's group investigated further. "We found that statins activated a very specific immune response, which stopped insulin from doing its job properly. So we connected the dots and found that combining statins with another drug on top of it, Glyburide, suppressed this side effect."
He says the finding has the potential to develop new targets for this immune pathway that do not interfere with the benefits of statins.
"It's premature to say we are going to change this drug, but now that we understand one way it can cause this side effect we can develop new strategies to minimize side effects. This may even include using natural products or nutritional strategies to subvert the side effects of statins," he says.
Schertzer emphasizes that statins are important and widely prescribed drugs and understanding how they promote adverse effects may lead to necessary improvements in this drug class, which has the potential to affect a large segment of the population.