Type 2 diabetes: Drug duo may remain effective for 2 years
Written by James Kingsland on November 11, 2020 — Fact checked by Mary Cooke, Ph.D.
A trial suggests that in patients who are no longer responding to metformin, taking a combination of two newer drugs is safe and yields clinical benefits for at least 2 years.
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Insulin helps regulate the amount of glucose circulating in the blood. In type 2 diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin, its cells no longer respond effectively to the hormone, or both.
In the long term, high blood glucose levels can cause a wide range of debilitating and potentially life threatening complications. These include high blood pressure, damage to organs such as the heart and kidneys, nerve damage, and blindness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), type 2 diabetes affects more than 30 million individuals in the United States and accounts for 90–95% of all cases of diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult-onset diabetes because it mostly affects people over the age of 45. But in recent decades, rates of type 2 diabetes in children, teenagers, and young adults have increased in the U.S.
Lifestyle changes can control or even reverse the condition. Doctors also prescribe drugs to stabilize patients’ blood glucose levels.
The first-line treatment is metformin, but in some patients, the drug’s efficacy can decline over time, necessitating alternative treatments.
A clinical trial called DURATION-8 investigated a combination of two newer drugs — exenatide and dapagliflozin — in patients whose blood glucose levels did not respond to metformin.
Initially, the trial lasted 28 weeks, but it was later extended to 52 weeks. The results suggest that the combination was safe and continued to be more effective than either drug alone.
In addition to stabilizing blood glucose levels, the drug combination was associated with lower blood pressure and body weight.
The researchers report in the journal Diabetes Care that the drug duo remained safe and effective 2 years (104 weeks) after treatment began, following a second extension of the trial.
“Many therapies in diabetes management are short-lived, which is why it is useful to test for long-term effect,” says first author Dr. Serge Jabbour, director of the division of endocrinology and the Diabetes Center at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, PA.
Exenatide belongs to a class of drugs called glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists, which work by promoting insulin secretion, reducing the release of glucose from the liver, and increasing the feeling of fullness after a meal.
Dapagliflozin belongs to a class called sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 inhibitors, which boost the amount of glucose that is excreted in urine.
“These two classes work synergistically to help control a type 2 diabetes patient’s glucose levels and other measures associated with diabetes,” says Dr. Jabbour. “We can now feel more confident about prescribing these medications long term.”
AstraZeneca, which makes branded versions of both drugs, funded the study. The company also played a role in designing the study, gathering the data, and evaluating it.