Old Diabetes Drug Still As Effective As Newer, More Expensive Ones

Recent research suggests that new treatments for diabetes may not necessarily be better or more effective than older ones. A relatively common drug that has been used to treat type 2 diabetes for more than 15 years still works just as well as a number of newer and more expensive diabetes medications and may have fewer side effects.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found out that metformin, an oral drug used to treat diabetes that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1995 not only is effective in controlling blood sugar levels but also are less likely to cause users to gain weight or raise their cholesterol levels. The report was published on the March 14 issue of the online journal Annals of Internal Medicine. Not only is it effective, “Metformin works for most people. It’s cheaper, there’s a generic form — it’s tried and true,” according to study leader Wendy L. Bennett, M.D., M.P.H.,  who is an assistant professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “Our study shows that even though there are all these newer drugs, metformin works just as well and has fewer side effects,” she further added.

The recent study made by the Johns Hopkins researchers was an update to a previous research done in 2007 which showed the advantages of metformin. Since that time, new classes of medication developed to treat adult-onset diabetes were approved by the FDA. Dr. Bennett and her colleagues wanted to check out whether the newer drugs were more effective than the older ones. The study also looked into multiple-drug combinations that have been used increasingly to treat other diabetes patients.

The researchers reviewed 166 previously published medical studies that examined the safety and effectiveness of several diabetes drugs. They also looked into the impact of these diabetes drugs on long term outcomes on diabetes patients including the development of cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, nerve disease and even death.

Their review showed that among the different classes of drugs or any of their combination used to treat diabetes, there was not a single one, old or new, that showed any distinct advantage as to improving long-term outcomes associated with the chronic disease. One possible reason, according to Dr. Bennett is that there were not enough long-term studies that might help further establish the fact, particularly for the newer classes of diabetic medications.

But among the various drugs reviewed, it was metformin that was consistently associated with fewer side effects. Other drug classes that were reviewed were associated with increased risk of hypoglycemia as well as increased heart failure risks, weight gain and fractures. And since the newer drug classes used to treat diabetes provided no generic options, they are also more expensive than the older ones like metformin.

While all the drugs reviewed all help to reduce blood sugar levels, further research may be needed to look into how they might further affect long term outcomes for diabetics. “Some of the drugs haven’t been on the market long enough to study the long-term effects or even some of the short-term rare side effects, so we need longer studies in patients who are at highest risk for complications” Dr. Bennett added.

Source: Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. “Newer doesn’t mean better when it comes to type 2 diabetes drugs.” ScienceDaily 14 March 2011. 15 March 2011 <http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2011/03/110314172314.htm>.


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