A novel investigation has elucidated that commonly used statin drugs potentially reduce the risk of death from COVID-19.
The research, conducted by experts from the Karolinska Institutet, has revealed that statin drugs – widely-utilised medications for preventing cardiovascular events by reducing stress levels of lipoprotein cholesterol in the blood – may lower COVID-19 mortality.
The investigation, which is published in PLOS Medicine, is the most extensive population study to date in this area and looks to address the initial theories that statin drugs elevate the risk of death from COVID-19.
Potential of repurposing statin drugs
Statin drugs are administered to lower the cholesterol level (lipid count) in an individual’s blood and are a standard preventative treatment for patients at a high risk of cardiovascular events. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists hypothesised that statin drugs could be utilised to lower COVID-19 mortality due to their effects on coagulation and the immune system.
However, early studies of this theory did not illustrate a definitive answer and mostly suffered from the limitation that they did not include hospital inpatients. Nevertheless, this novel Karolinska Institutet study provides the largest population study to date on the relationship between statin treatments and COVID-19 mortality.
Impacts on COVID-19 mortality
To conduct their investigation, the team employed extensive data from Swedish registers, allowing them to analyse 963,876 residents from Stockholm between March and November 2020 who were over the age of 45. The results are based on analyses of prescribed medication and healthcare data of the participants, which was obtained through the Cause of Death Register.
The resulting information was then examined with respect to factors such as diagnosed medical conditions. The team found that statin drugs were associated with a slightly lower risk of dying from COVID-19, with this correlation not varying significantly among risk groups. The team will now conduct randomised studies to determine if there is a casual relationship.
Rita Bergqvist, the co-first author of the study and a medical student at Karolinska Institutet, said: “Our results suggest that statin treatment can have a moderate prophylactic effect on COVID-19 mortality.”
“All in all, our findings support the continued use of statins for conditions such as cardiovascular disease and high levels of blood lipids in line with current recommendations during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said co-first author Viktor Ahlqvist, a doctoral student at the Department of Global Public Health, Karolinska Institutet.
The team noted that a limitation of the study is that although it analysed prescription data, it did not check for the possibility of individual drug use. Additionally, they were not able to control for risk factors such as smoking and high BMI, only diagnosed health status.