New drugs offer hope for better diabetes treatment

The recent film “Contagion” depicts the world descending to chaos due to the spread of an extremely deadly virus. But in reality, one of the most serious epidemics doesn’t come from an infectious agent but from people’s life choices.

Diabetes currently affects 26 million people in the United States, with Type 2 diabetes making up the bulk of the epidemic and expected to exact tremendous costs to the U.S. economy as it expands over the next several decades. But while healthier lifestyles ultimately are the best way to combat the Type 2 diabetes epidemic, a number of companies are developing drugs to treat it.

Among these is dapagliflozin, a treatment developed by Bristol-Myers Squibb and AstraZeneca. “Physicians are enthusiastic about this drug’s novel mechanism of action — the drug promotes urinary excretion of excess glucose — because it carries a very low risk of hypoglycemia, even when used in combination with other antidiabetic drugs, and causes modest amounts of weight loss,” said Decision Resources analyst Christine Helliwell, noting that hypoglycemia often is a limiting side effect of diabetes drugs. 

But whether the drug will receive approval remains in doubt, as a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee recommended against its approval in July, raising the possibility that the FDA might decline to approve it. However, this wouldn’t be the end of the road, as there may still be steps that BMS and AstraZeneca can take to win approval.

Novo Nordisk is developing the long-acting insulin analogue degludec, which Helliwell said may be more suitable for elderly or fragile patients due to its lower risk of hypoglycemia. Meanwhile, Bydureon (exenatide), a long-acting version of the Type 2 diabetes drug Byetta — made by Eli Lilly, Amylin Pharmaceuticals and Alkermes — is expected to do well.

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