Don’t Have a Heart Attack When You Read the Amazing Story of Lipitor

May 19, 2023

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May 20th is Clinical Trials Day. Of course, we are biased and think it should become a national holiday, but until that day arrives, let’s celebrate the day by studying a clinical trial designed by our founder and CEO, Dr. Michael J. Koren. The trial we will study, published in 2006, was called the Aggressive Lipid-Lowering Initiation Abates New Cardiac Events, or ALLIANCE. In case you are unaware, the sponsors of clinical trials are all very clever and enjoy coming up with neat acronyms.

ALLIANCE was a large, 16-center study conducted around the turn of the millennium and enrolled 2,442 patients. All patients had coronary heart disease – blockage of a major blood vessel to the heart. The study was designed to determine the difference in outcomes for patients with coronary heart disease when taking atorvastatin, marketed as Lipitor, at a full dose of 80 mg versus usual treatment with statins or other cholesterol drugs. Patients treated with high dose atorvastatin were monitored to keep their LDL less than 80 mg/dL.

Outcomes in a clinical trial are the variables measured: what researchers are monitoring for change. Typical outcomes will include things like changes in symptoms, cure, or death. The ALLIANCE patients had coronary heart disease, so the main outcomes being monitored were: 

  • low-density lipoprotein (LDL – the “bad” cholesterol)
  • heart-related hospitalization
  • heart attack
  • death due to heart attack

This study was significant because it looked at the difference between medications given in a clinical trial setting and “usual care” for people enrolled in managed care health plans (they all had insurance).

The study results were, frankly, amazing. In the “usual care” group, patients saw their average LDL levels drop by over 23 mg/dL, a significant decrease. These are nice results, but the “more aggressively treated” group did even better. They saw LDL levels drop by more than 34 mg/dL, a 50% greater reduction! Furthermore, the aggressive treatment led to 17% fewer events, including a whopping 47% fewer heart attacks! Needless to say, the aggressive atorvastatin treatment was a resounding success.

The stated goal of the study was to discover the effectiveness of the investigational medication, but the ALLIANCE study also measured the difference between clinical trials and standard care. The aggressive treatment group received clinical-trial-level care with specialist medical professionals and frequent check-ins. Patients had a lot of contact, and researchers were interested in any and all health changes. The study showed great success for the sponsor. It helped make Lipitor the best-selling medication of all time (recently broken by Humira). It gave us solid evidence that the clinical trial process doesn’t just lead to new potential medications but also potentially better health outcomes for patients.

Thanks, Dr. Koren, for taking leadership of this trial and the ENCORE Research Group.

Staff Writer / Editor Benton Lowey-Ball, BS, BFA

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Koren, M. J., Hunninghake, D. B., & Alliance Investigators. (2004). Clinical outcomes in managed-care patients with coronary heart disease treated aggressively in lipid-lowering disease management clinics: the alliance study. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 44(9), 1772-1779.

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