Once-a-week jab offers new hope to diabetic patients

Wednesday 06th October 2021 06:56 EDT

A brand new once-a-week jab can help type 2 diabetes patients “into remission”, slashing blood sugar to normal levels, cutting cholesterol and blood pressure, and helping patients lose a stone and a half or more. The results of a pivotal trial into the drug, announced at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes last week, found that it vastly outperformed current treatment regimes, offering hope to those with the incurable condition.

The new medicine called tirzepatide, is reportedly so effective it may offer patients a viable alternative to weight-loss surgery, which is at present the most effective method of treating patients who need to lose large amounts of weight and bring their type 2 diabetes into remission.

Professor of Diabetes Medicine, University of Leicester, lead researcher for the global trial, said, “It’s about choice. Surgery is available to only a tiny minority of patients. To have drugs that give similar results would have been unheard of until a few years ago, but it’s likely that will be the case in the near future.”

One of the first type 2 diabetes patients to benefit from tirzepatide lost an astonishing 4st after four months of weekly self-administered injections. Retired telecoms boss David Batson, 64, who participated in the trial between December 2019 and March 2020, also saw his blood sugar fall into the non-diabetic range and his blood pressure return to normal. He said, “And I achieved it all by doing nothing more than sitting down in my living room and reading a few books.”

The drug combines an existing form of medication called glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists, and a new, similar drug, known as a glucose-dependent insulinotropic peptide, or GIP. The drugs send signals to the brain, helping curb the appetite, stimulate the body to use up glucose in the blood and lower the amount of sugar that’s digested and absorbed from food.

A number of GLP-1 receptor agonists are now available, including exenatide, liraglutide and semaglutide, which is available in both injection and tablet form. However, the inclusion of a second active ingredient, GIP, is what some experts say makes tirzepatide more effective. GIP works similarly to GLP-1 receptor agonists, mimicking a naturally occurring digestive hormone, helping both stimulate insulin release and absorption of sugar from the blood.

Given on its own, it was ineffective in type 2 diabetes treatment – for reasons not fully understood. But in combination with other medicines, it had a transformative effect. On the trial, 1,879 patients – mostly middle-aged – were given self-injector pens. They were instructed to take either a dose of tirzepatide, or semaglutide once a week for up to ten months. The new drug worked better than semaglutide in every aspect, giving greater weight loss and better blood sugar control even at the lowest doses.

Professor Naveed Sattar, an expert in diabetes and metabolic medicine at The University of Glasgow, welcomed the new findings. He said, “In some respects, these drugs mimic the process of remission,’ he said. ‘The key to developing diabetes is usually excess fat building up in the liver and other organs. Losing a considerable amount of weight gets rid of this, so the body can function normally again.”

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