LONDON, England - One hundred million diabetics around the world could benefit from taking cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins, British scientists behind a major study into the medicines said Friday.

Most people with diabetes do not currently receive statins, although they are at higher risk of heart disease and strokes than the general population.

But a five-year study involving nearly 6,000 patients found taking a once-daily statin pill cut that risk by about a third, even in patients with relatively low cholesterol levels.

'What this study indicates quite clearly is that if you have got diabetes, your cholesterol levels are too high for you and that lowering your cholesterol will lower your risk,' said Professor Rory Collins of the Clinical Trials Service Unit at Oxford University, lead author of the study.

Doctors should now routinely consider giving statins to people with diabetes as the third leg of a strategy which already includes treatment for blood sugar levels and high blood pressure, Collins believes.

Such an approach could benefit around two-thirds of diabetics and prevent a million heart attacks and strokes worldwide each year.

'There are 150 million people with diabetes around the world. We are saying that at least 100 million probably have a clear indication for statin use,' Collins told Reuters.

Such an approach would trigger a massive increase in statin use, but Collins said it would be cost-effective for health authorities since a number of cholesterol fighters are now coming off patent.

Sue Roberts, the British government's National Clinical Director for Diabetes, said the research showed the preventative benefits of taking statins and she wanted to ensure the lessons of the study were acted on as quickly as possible.

Simavastatin was the statin tested in the study but rivals from companies including Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers are expected to work just as well, Collins said.

Statins are already among the most widely used medicines in the Western world, generating global sales of around $19 billion a year in a market that is expanding by 15 percent annually.

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