Compared with patients who didn’t take statins, statin users had better health outcomes. For those who used these medications, the researchers saw lower mortality, lower clinical severity, and shorter hospital stays, aligning with previous observational studies, said lead author, of the University of Central Florida, Orlando, and colleagues in their abstract, which was part of the agenda for the Anesthesiology annual meeting.
They attributed these clinical improvements to the pleiotropic – non–cholesterol lowering – effects of statins.
“[These] benefits of statins have been reported since the 1990s,” Dr. Crimi said in an interview. “Statin treatment has been associated with a marked reduction of markers of inflammation, such as erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and C-reactive protein (CRP), interleukin-6 (IL-6), ferritin, and white blood cell count, among others.”
He noted that these effects have been studied in an array of conditions, including cancer, autoimmune diseases, chronic inflammatory disease, and in the perioperative setting, and with infectious diseases, including COVID-19.
In those previous studies, “preexisting statin use was protective among hospitalized COVID-19 patients, but a large, multicenter cohort study has not been reported in the United States,” Dr. Crimi and his colleagues wrote in their abstract.
To address this knowledge gap, they turned to electronic medical records from 38,875 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 from January to September 2020. Almost one-third of the population (n = 11,533) were using statins prior to hospitalization, while the remainder (n = 27,342) were nonusers.
The primary outcome was all-cause mortality. Secondary outcomes included death from COVID-19, along with a variety of severe complications. While the analysis did account for a range of potentially confounding variables, the effects of different SARS-CoV-2 variants and new therapeutics were not considered. Vaccines were not yet available at the time the data were collected.
Statin users had a 31% lower rate of all-cause mortality (odds ratio, 0.69; 95% confidence interval, 0.64-0.75; P = .001) and a 37% reduced rate of death from COVID-19 (OR, 0.63; 95% CI, 0.58-0.69; P = .001).
A litany of other secondary variables also favored statin users, including reduced rates of discharge to hospice (OR, 0.79), ICU admission (OR, 0.69), severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDs; OR, 0.72), critical ARDs (OR, 0.57), mechanical ventilation (OR, 0.60), severe sepsis with septic shock (OR, 0.66), and thrombosis (OR, 0.46). Statin users also had, on average, shorter hospital stays and briefer mechanical ventilation.
“Our study showed a strong association between preexisting statin use and reduced mortality and morbidity rates in hospitalized COVID-19 patients,” the investigators concluded. “Pleiotropic benefits of statins could be repurposed for COVID-19 illness.”
Prospective studies needed before practice changes
How to best use statins against COVID-19, if at all, remains unclear, Dr. Crimi said, as initiation upon infection has generated mixed results in other studies, possibly because of statin pharmacodynamics. Cholesterol normalization can take about 6 weeks, so other benefits may track a similar timeline.
“The delayed onset of statins’ pleiotropic effects may likely fail to keep pace with the rapidly progressive, devastating COVID-19 disease,” Dr. Crimi said. “Therefore, initiating statins for an acute disease may not be an ideal first-line treatment.”
Stronger data are on the horizon, he added, noting that 19 federally funded prospective trials are underway to better understand the relationship between statins and COVID-19.
, of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, said the present findings are “not especially notable” because they “mostly confirm previous studies, but in a large U.S. cohort.”
Dr. Rader, who wrote about the potential repurposing of statins for COVID-19 back in the first year of the pandemic (), agreed with the investigators that recommending changes to clinical practice would be imprudent until randomized controlled data confirm the benefits of initiating statins in patients with active COVID-19.
“More research on the impact of cellular cholesterol metabolism on SARS-CoV-2 infection of cells and generation of inflammation would also be of interest,” he added.
The investigators disclosed no competing interests. Dr. Rader disclosed relationships with Novartis, Pfizer, Verve, and others.