People at high risk of heart attack and stroke are to be offered statin therapy on the UK’s National Health Service, following a positive recommendation from the country’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence – the cost effectiveness body that earlier in the week caused uproar after it gave only a partial backing to Alzheimer’s drugs for use in moderate disease only, effectively culling an estimated 72,000 patients from receiving treatment for early-stage AD.

But NICE has pleased statin manufacturers with its latest guidance, which states that the drugs – including AstraZeneca’s Crestor (rosuvastatin), Pfizer’s Lipitor (atorvastatin) and Merck & Co’s Zocor (simvastatin) – should be prescribed not only to patients that have established cardiovascular disease, but to those high-risk individuals, including smokers and the obese, who have a 20% or greater chance of developing heart disease “within 10 years.” Over 3 million people in England and Wales – some 7.5% of the adult population – now become eligible for treatment, with an additional 2 million already receiving a statin under previous guidance, a spokesperson for NICE told PharmaTimes News Online.

The Institute, which believes that deaths from heart disease will be cut dramatically by implementing its new guidance, said that the cost of making statins more widely available will be £78 million a year. CVD is the single most common cause of death in the UK, accounting for nearly 238,000 in 2002, with approximately 50% of these being from CHD and 25% from stroke. Worryingly, almost one-third of the deaths were classified as premature. NICE estimates that, in terms of events prevented, the NHS could potentially save £68.6 million, with a net cost to the service of £8.4 million.