While previous drug trials with Mevacor, Pravachol, Zocor, and Lipitor have focused mostly on examining whether the drugs reduced incidence of cardiovascular events, Crestor studies have also focused on effects on atherosclerotic plaque volume. The best example is the ASTEROID trial that demonstrated approximately 7% reduction in plaque volume by intracoronary ultrasound.
So the AstraZeneca decision makers took the leap from cholesterol reduction to plaque reduction.
I'm sure this switch wasn't taken lightly, but was the topic of discussion at many meetings before the decision to make plaque reduction the focus of hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising. After all, billions of dollars are at stake in this bloated statin market.
Ordinarily, I couldn't care less about how the drug manufacturers conduct their advertising campaigns. But this one I paid attention to because the Crestor ads are helping fuel a new way of thinking about coronary heart disease: It's not about the cholesterol; it's about the atherosclerotic plaque that accumulates in arteries.
It's not cholesterol that grows, limits coronary blood flow, and causes angina. It's not cholesterol that "ruptures" its internal contents to the surface within the interior of the blood vessel and causes blood clot and heart attack. It's not cholesterol that fragments from the carotid arteries and showers debris to the brain, causing stroke. It's all plaque.
I took the same leap years ago, though not backed by hundreds of millions of dollars of marketing money. When I first called my book Track Your Plaque, some of the feedback I got from editors included comments like "I thought this was a book about teeth!" Even now, the word "plaque" in the book title and website is responsible for confusion.
But AstraZeneca is helping me clear up the confusion. As the word plaque gains hold in public consciousness, it will become increasingly clear that cholesterol reduction is not what we're after. We are looking for reduction of plaque.
If you are trying to develop an effective means to reduce or reverse coronary heart disease, then there are two simple equations to keep in mind:
Plaque = coronary heart disease
Cholesterol ≠ coronary heart disease
Plaque is the disease, cholesterol is not. Cholesterol is simply a crude risk for plaque.
While I'm no friend to the drug industry nor to AstraZeneca, some good will come of their efforts.