Last month, I wrote about Roger Newton, the former Pfizer executive who co-discovered the blockbuster cholesterol-lowering drug atorvastatin (Lipitor).
Newton, now the CEO at a reborn version of his original company, Esperion Therapeutics in Plymouth, MI, said in the interview he thought doctors overprescribe statins like Lipitor to treat heart disease at the expense of diet and exercise.
I recalled Newton’s words when reading a recent New York Times piece that suggested a link between statin use and diabetes. The story cited a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) that found patients undergoing aggressive statin therapy showed an “increased risk” of developing diabetes compared to patients undergoing moderate drug therapy. The findings echoed a study published last year in the British journal The Lancet.
Animal studies suggest statins may prompt muscles to resist insulin, resulting in more blood sugar circulating in the blood, the NYT story said.
I spoke to Newton to get his reaction. He wasn’t familiar with the JAMA study but noted the Lancet piece only showed a small number of patients contracting diabetes. In addition, researchers didn’t find a firm cause and effect relationship between the drug and diabetes, only an “associative link” which means that other factors could be responsible for the increased incidence of diabetes.
In a way, though, the studies, however, validate Esperion’s raison d’etre. Newton founded Esperion in 2009 because he wanted to move beyond statins and develop drugs that treat both heart disease and metabolic disorders like diabetes.
Esperion claims its lead drug candidate, ETC-1002, can both lower “bad” cholesterol and boost “good” cholesterol.
Of course, this isn’t the first time researchers have sought to pull off that highly desirable two-fer. Pfizer’s own torcetrapib molecule was supposed to do that, until it suffered a notorious failure in the final phase of clinical trials in 2006.
Statins as a class have been enormously successful, both medically and financially. But the possible relationship between statins and diabetes, even if it’s not quite direct, supports Newton’s main argument: that how the body pumps and distributes blood is inextricably linked to how the body creates and stores energy.
In the past, doctors viewed diseases like separate silos. Quite the opposite, Newton says. The body is an interconnected tapestry in which cardiovascular and metabolic functions inevitably affect each other.
“That’s why we’re doing ETC-1002,” Newton says.