Recent Studies Link Popular Diabetes Drugs to Pancreatitis and Pancreatic Cancer

Diabetes drugs taken by millions of Americans may be linked to an increased risk of pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer (a disease with one of the lowest cancer survival rates). More than 12 million prescriptions were filled, in the United States, in 2012 alone. These increasingly popular GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide) drugs (such as Byetta and Victoza) and DPP-4 drugs (such as Junuvai, Onglyza, Nesina and Tradjenta or Trajenta) should be added to the list of diabetes drugs like, Avandia and Actos, among others, that have recently been the subject of causing serious and deadly side effects. Back in April 2012, Public Citizen’s Health Research Group (HRG) petitioned the FDA to ban Victoza after studies found “it puts patients at higher risk of thyroid cancer, pancreatitis, serious allergic reactions and kidney failure that outweigh any documented clinical benefits.”

This family of diabetes drugs, used for adults with type 2 diabetes, attempts to lower blood sugar, by simulating a hormone called GLP-1, which encourages the release of insulin. The generic and brand names of the drugs in this family include:

• Exenatide (Byetta & Bydureon) marketed by Bristol Myers-Squibb and Amylin Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
• Liraglutide (Victoza) marketed by Novo Nordisk • Sitagliptin (Januvia, Janumet & Juvisync) marketed by Merck • Saxagliptin (Onglyza & Kombiglyze) marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb in partnership with Astrazeneca • Alogliptin (Nesina, Kazano & Oseni) marketed by Takeda Pharmaceuticals • Linagliptin (Tradjenta & Jentadueto) marketed by Eli Lilly and Boehringer Ingelheim
While the drug industry continues to ignore or deny the existence of problems with their diabetes drugs an April 2013 study revealed patients using the GLP-1-based Sitagliptin and Exenatide were “associated with increased odds of hospitalization for acute pancreatitis.” In addition, recent studies from UCLA and a July 2013 article from DiabetesCare have shown a link to pancreatic cancer. Researchers at UCLA published an article concluding that “a plausible mechanism links GLP-1 based therapy with acute pancreatitis – and a potential risk of pancreatic cancer;” when using Liraglutide, Exenatide, Sitagliptin or Saxagliptin than in older diabetes drugs.

While the FDA continues to monitor these drugs for increased risk; the HRG are already drafting new petitions to have the other five drugs in the family banned as well. And the drug manufacturers have already updated their warnings on these drugs but these warnings are clearly not strong enough given the recent evidence. In fact, a recent letter to U.K. physicians regarding saxagliptin informed them that there was a suggestion of a causal relationship between pancreatitis and saxagliptin treatment. Other companies have updated their labels to include references to post marketing reports of acute pancreatitis.

In light of the fact that lifestyle change and diet are by far the most effective treatments for adult-onset diabetics, the risk-benefit question would seem to indicate that these drugs are way too risky. And now, on top of cardiac risks and bladder cancer risks from some of the other diabetes drugs, doctors and patients should be aware of the potential risk of pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer with this family of drugs.

If you or a loved one has taken one of these diabetes drugs and been diagnosed with pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer, please contact Pogust Braslow & Millrood for a free consultation at (610) 941-4204 or contact us on our website: