The enduring mystery of heart disease – The Clot Thickens

Posted by Ed 59 days ago

And so, after only thirty short years of research, my book on heart disease is finally finished, and is published today. Up to now my books, and blogs, have mainly consisted of telling people what does not cause heart disease. Or to be slightly more accurate, cardiovascular disease.

Hint, it is not cholesterol, or LDL, or LDL/cholesterol, or the good cholesterol/bad cholesterol ratio – or whichever term is in favour today.

So, what does cause cardiovascular disease? Those few, those happy few, who have read this blog over the years may already know a great deal of what is in the book. For others this will be a new and, hopefully, fascinating foray into a completely different way of thinking.

The first point I want to make, then emphasize, then re-emphasize, is that there is no ‘the’ cause of cardiovascular disease. By which I mean that there is not, and never has been, any one single factor that can be considered to be ‘the’ cause. Instead, there are many. They can work by themselves or combine with others.

So you can say that, for example, diabetes is ‘a’ cause of cardiovascular disease. But you cannot say that it is ‘the’ cause. Yes ‘a’ cause but not ‘the’ cause. This is not purely semantics. Whilst the difference may seem subtle, it is critical. A table, or the table. A man, or the man. An answer, or the answer.

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Ed 59 days ago


Someone once said to me that I really must despise the pharmaceutical industry. There are certainly times when this is true, and my anger with them is sharp … and hot.

But yet, and yet, I know many people who work in the industry, and they all seem nice, concerned about the world, caring. Trying to do good. The industry itself has also produced some great innovations and medications. Without which the world would be a much scarier and more unpleasant place.

In truth, I find the industry is a bit like capitalism. Both fantastic and dreadful. Which is a bit like humanity itself. Both fantastic and dreadful. Capable of the most amazing things, yet the darker side can be very dark indeed. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

To be frank, my personal problems with the pharmaceutical industry have mainly centred around cholesterol lowering. Various companies have made billions, nay tens of billions, nay hundreds of billions, pushing LDL-Cholesterol reduction with all their might.

However, I have oft sat with my head in my hands in despair at such nonsense. Pfizer with Lipitor (atorvastatin) pushed the hardest and made the most … and horribly distorted the entire world of cardiovascular disease research in so doing.

However, thirty years ago, and purely by chance, the planets Pfizer and Kendrick were in a strange alignment. Briefly, I found myself on the same side as Pfizer when it came to cardiovascular disease.

How could this possibly be so? Well, gentle reader, let me take you back to a time when Pfizer had a very different drug to promote, called Doxazocin. It was a type of blood pressure lowering agent known as an Alpha-1 blocker. It was not selling terribly well, so they were looking for other angles in an attempt to boost sales.

I should mention that this was before Pfizer had a statin. A time that you could refer to as the ‘BS’ era. (Or maybe we are now in the true BS era – discuss). Then, in the year 2000, Pfizer took over Warner Lambert, which just happened to have a statin called atorvastatin (Lipitor). Yes, Pfizer didn’t actually develop atorvastatin. They just bought out the company that did. Nifty move.

Anyway, in 1992, Pfizer was not much interested in lowering LDL-Cholesterol, as they didn’t have a statin. Which meant they had other fish to fry with their cardiovascular drugs. They were more focussed on blood pressure lowering. But their Alpha-1 blocker for this, doxazocin (Cardura) was a bit rubbish.

So, what to do? What to do indeed. What they did was to use the tried and trusted mechanisms of looking at different effects that this drug might have.

To explain, almost all drugs when they are launched are marketed for one indication, and that indication only – the thing that will make the most money. Achieving marketing approval, for any indication e.g., blood pressure lowering, costs vast sums of money. Which means that companies must keep their focus tight, to drive the drug through the clinical trials process.

However, almost all drugs will do many other things, and you cannot run separate clinical trials on them all. To long, too complex, too costly.

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