Simvastatin May Up Infection Risk

A new research study, published in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, reveals that scientists from Italy found that <"">simvastatin—the generic name for specific cholesterol lowering medications—can adversely impact the body’s immune system in two ways, says Science Daily.

The emerging research found that the simvastatin both hinders the ability of specialized immune cells, called macrophages, to kill pathogens and also enhances molecule—cytokine—production, which prompts and maintains inflammation.

The researchers conducted experiments on human cells and mice, using human macrophages derived from blood samples of healthy donors and murine (mouse) macrophages, said Science Daily. Macrophages were incubated with Staphlococcus aureus, a bacteria generally found on the skin and in the body’s upper airways, said Science Daily. When the infection took hold, the team analyzed the bactericidal response of macrophages treated with simvastatin, said Science Daily.

Treated macrophages responded with significant impairment when attempts were made to remove the bacteria and related cell debris, said Science Daily. Similar impairment was also seen when attempts were made to kill ingested bacteria, versus the same attempts on untreated cells, said Science Daily. The cells that were treated also produced higher amounts of cytokines, the molecule that prompts cell inflammation, said Science Daily, which noted that the experiments caused similar results when conducted on mice.

Zocor, Simlup, Simcard, and Simvacor are all brand names for simvastatin medications. Vytorin is a combination of the Zocor and Zetia.

Recently, the makers of the controversial cholesterol-lowering drug Vytorin—Merck & Company and Schering-Plough Corporation—agreed to settle allegations that they delayed the release of negative information derived from a study of the drug, reported Reuters. Merck and Schering-Plough will pay $5.4 million to 35 states and the District of Columbia, said Reuters, which explained that the two sell Vytorin via a joint venture and also sell Zetia, a “related” drug and a component of Vytorin.

Vytorin, a combination of the Zocor and Zetia, has been under the microscope since the ENHANCE study, which found the drug was no better than a cheaper, generic statin in preventing clogged arteries, was released in January 2008. Merck and Schering-Plough delayed releasing ENHANCE for more than a year; the trial was actually completed in 2006. The state attorneys general allege that before the drug makers released any of the negative study results, both Merck and Schering-Plough conducted intense marketing of Vytorin through direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising, Reuters pointed out.

The ENHANCE controversy spawned well over 100 lawsuits alleging Merck and Schering-Plough were fraudulent by withholding the study results for so long. Investigations into the ENHANCE debacle and Vytorin marketing are also being conducted in Congress, by the U.S. Justice Department, and several state attorneys general. Also, in August, the drug makers agreed to pay $41.5 million to settle class-action lawsuits filed by consumers who used Vytorin and Zetia.

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