A commonly prescribed class of Type 2 diabetes drugs known as incretin mimetics may put users at risk for developing pancreatic cancer, according to new research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
Incretin mimetics include medications known as GLP-1 receptor agonists and DDP-4 inhibitors. These drugs work by increasing the release of insulin after meals and by slowing absorption of food in the gastrointestinal tract. Brand name GLP-1 drugs include Byetta (exenatide), and brand name DDP-4 drugs include Januvia (sitagliptin).
Last February, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that people using the incretin mimetics Januvia and Byetta were twice as likely to be hospitalized for a serious pancreatic inflammation known as acute pancreatitis than who used another class of type 2 diabetes medication. Two months later, a group of researchers analyzed data from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and discovered an increasing number of cases of pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer and thyroid cancer among patients taking various incretin mimetics.
The latest research, conducted by Peter Butler, chief of the division of endocrinology at the University of California, Los Angeles, involved studying the pancreases of people who had died of non-pancreas-related disease. Butler found that the pancreases of people who had used incretin mimetics were more likely to have precancerous abnormalities than the pancreases of people who used another class of type 2 diabetes drugs.
Butler says what prompted him to conduct the study on human pancreases was an earlier study of his in which he and UCLA colleagues discovered that laboratory mice that were treated with Januvia developed enlarged pancreases and cellular changes in their pancreases that could result in cancer.
Type 2 diabetes drugs are rife with warnings. In 2011, the FDA warned that studies showed that Actos increased the risk of bladder cancer, in particular in patients who used the drug long term. Actos is in a class of type 2 diabetes drugs known as thiazolidinediones, or TZDs.
Avandia is another TZD, which in 2010 was severely restricted by the FDA after the drug was linked to fatal heart attacks.
Last month, the FDA announced the safety labels for drugs Tradjenta and Jentadueto, both incretin mimetics, would be updated to include a warning that the medications have been associated with pancreatitis that in some cases has been fatal.
Attorneys with Beasley Allen Law Firm are currently investigating cases of pancreatic cancer in patients who have taken the drugs Byetta or Januvia.