Diabetes drugs including Januvia and Byetta linked to cancer, pancreatitis risks

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by Eric Pearson

Recently, academic researchers from the Larry L. Hillblom Islet Research Center at UCLA and the Diabetes Center at the University of Florida found that cell mass was increased approximately 40% in the pancreases of deceased organ donors who had Type 2 diabetes and who had been treated with incretin therapy. This widely used type of treatment takes advantage of the action of a gut hormone known as glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) to lower blood sugar in the body.

The same patients showed abnormalities in the pancreas, including cell proliferation, that may be associated with an increased risk of neuroendocrine tumors, according to the new study published online March 22 in the journal Diabetes. Incretin-treated individuals also showed an increase in pancreas dysplasia, an abnormal form of cell proliferation that is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer.

As a result of the newly published study, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) recently warned that it is investigating a possible link between several widely used diabetes medicines and an increased risk of cancer. The FDA said it is seeking more information about evidence found by the researchers that two groups of popular diabetes drugs can raise the risk of inflammation of the pancreas and cellular changes in the insulin-making organ that may lead to pancreatic cancer. Previous studies have also linked these medications to an increased risk of pancreatitis.

The drugs under investigation include:

  • Januvia, Janumet and Juvisync, manufactured by Merck & Co.;
  • Victoza, manufactured by Denmark’s Novo Nordisk;
  • Diabetes injections Byetta and Bydureon and diabetes pills Onglyza and Kombiglyze, manufactured by Bristol-Myers Squibb;
  • Tradjenta and Jentadueto, manufactured by Eli Lilly; and
  • Nesina, Kazano and Oseni, diabetes pills manufactured by Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceuticals.

These drugs generated more than $10 billion for the drug companies in 2012 alone. The injected drugs are all in the class called GLP-1 and are taken by nearly 1 million Americans, according to health data firm Kantar Health. These drugs work by mimicking the effects of a natural hormone that causes the body to make more insulin, the hormone that reduces levels of sugar in the blood by making it enter cells that turn the sugar, or glucose, into energy.

The pills under scrutiny are in the class called DPP-4 inhibitors, taken by about 1.6 million Americans, according to Kantar. These drugs work by stimulating insulin release and, at the same time, inhibiting release of a hormone that raises blood sugar levels. The FDA previously added information about some fatal cases of pancreatitis to the detailed package inserts for Byetta, in 2007, Januvia and Janumet, in 2009.

If you took one or more of these diabetes drugs and then were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, you may be entitled to compensation.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson is among the nation’s leading law firms in handling cases involving dangerous drugs. In the last three years alone, we collected more than $200 million for our clients in cases involving pharmaceutical products. To receive a free legal consultation and find out if you are eligible to file a case, please call our toll-free hotline at 1-877-446-9001, or by filling out our free case evaluation form located on this page.