New research suggests that pulsatile - or intermittent - dosing of statins might be effective enough to maintain an adequate cholesterol-lowering effect, while offering the advantages of boosting treatment compliance and cutting back National Health Service costs.

An analysis of UK GP prescribing and test records, sponsored by the SEEK Group, has shown that cholesterol levels remain below pre-statin levels for several months after patients stop taking them, raising hopes that their benefit could be reaped with just one week of dosing every three months instead of the current daily regime.

In the UK seven million people are currently taking statins to cut cholesterol, but treatment compliance and persistence is poor. Side effects include nosebleeds, sore throat, muscle weakness, problems with the digestive system, and an increased risk of diabetes, and more than 50% of patients stop their statin therapy within a year, worsening treatment outcomes.

“If we have an opportunity to increase compliance and minimise these drug side-effects for our patients, without reducing the undoubted benefit of statins, we should certainly take it”, noted Professor John Deanfield, British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiology at University College London, Consultant Cardiologist at Great Ormond Street Hospital and the Heart Hospital. 

Given the limitations of observational data, the researchers now intend to run a full ‘interventional’ clinical trial, which they hope will prove that interrupted statin dosing is a viable way of maintaining low cholesterol. The study is scheduled to being in the last quarter of this year.