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Statins and Adverse Cardiovascular Events in Moderate-Risk Females: A Statistical and Legal Analysis with Implications for FDA Preemption Claims


  • We thank Kevin Clermont, Dr. Orli Etingin, Dr. Curt Furberg, Valerie Hans, Janey Peterson, Dr. Michael Pignone, Norma Schwab, Stewart Schwab, and referees for comments. Michael Heise served as the editor for this article. We served as consultants for plaintiffs' counsel in litigation relating to Vioxx.

*Theodore Eisenberg, Henry Allen Mark Professor of Law, Cornell Law School, Myron Taylor Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853; email: Wells is Charles A. Alexander Professor of Statistical Sciences, Cornell University, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology and Health Services Research, Cornell University Weill Medical College, and Elected Member of the Law Faculty, Cornell University.


This article presents: (1) meta-analyses of studies of cardioprotection of women and men by statins, including Lipitor (atorvastatin), and (2) a legal analysis of advertising promoting Lipitor as preventing heart attacks. The meta-analyses of primary prevention clinical trials show statistically significant benefits for men but not for women, and a statistically significant difference between men and women. The analyses do not support (1) statin use to reduce heart attacks in women based on extrapolation from men, or (2) approving or advertising statins as reducing heart attacks without qualification in a population that includes many women. The legal analysis raises the question of whether Lipitor's advertisements, which omit that Lipitor's clinical trial found slight increased risk for women, is consistent with the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act and related Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations. The analysis suggests that FDA regulation should not preempt state law actions challenging advertising that is not supported by FDA-approved labeling. Our findings suggesting inadequate regulation of the world's best-selling drug also counsel against courts accepting the FDA's claimed preemption of state law causes of action relating to warnings and safety. Courts evaluating preemption claims should consider actual agency performance as well as theoretical institutional competence. Billions of health-care dollars may be being wasted on statin use by women but the current regulatory regime does not create incentives to prevent such behavior.