Israel's Health Ministry to Study Link Between Diabetes Drugs and Pancreatic Inflammation

Move comes in light of six cases of diabetics treated with drug Victoza who developed pancreatic cancer.

Dan Even
Dan Even
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Dan Even
Dan Even

The Health Ministry has asked doctors to pay attention to a possible connection between new drugs for treating diabetes - called incretin mimetics - and pancreatitis, an inflammatory disease of the pancreas. The ministry asked doctors to report on such side effects from using the drugs.

In October 2012, six cases of diabetics who were treated with the drug Victoza and developed pancreatic cancer were reported to the Health Ministry's pharmaceuticals division.

A more in-depth examination discovered other cases of patients who developed pancreatic cancer after being treated with other diabetes drugs from the same family, the incretin mimetics. The national Diabetes Council studied the issue among pancreatic cancer patients belonging to Clalit Health Services after receiving the reports and found cases where pancreatic cancer patients were treated with the most common diabetes drug, Metformin. Over 100,000 people in Israel use Metformin, and some 70 percent of Israeli diabetics belong to Clalit.

Dr. Itamar Raz of Hadassah Medical Center, the chairman of the National Diabetes Council, said it seems there is no reason to worry about developing pancreatic cancer due to the diabetes medicines.

Side effects

The decision to call on doctors was because the council has the impression that the level of reporting of side effects caused by these drugs given to diabetes patients is lower than expected.

Incretin mimetics are a family of drugs used to treat diabetes. They increase the levels of hormones called incretins. Incretins are hormones that after a meal tell the pancreas to release insulin, which brings blood glucose levels down.

These hormones help the body produce insulin only when needed and reduce the amount of glucose produced by the liver when not needed. They reduce the rate at which the stomach digests food and empties and can also reduce appetite.

Some are given as pills and others are injected. Among the brand names of the drugs in the family are Victoza, Byetta, Galvus, Januvia, Onglyza and Eucreas. All are included in the state-subsidized public health care basket.

In recent months other health authorities in Western countries have reported they are following up on a possible connection between taking incretin mimetics and damage to the pancreas.

New findings

In March the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported it was "evaluating unpublished new findings by a group of academic researchers that suggest an increased risk of pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, and pre-cancerous cellular changes called pancreatic duct metaplasia in patients with type 2 diabetes treated with a class of drugs called incretin mimetics." A short time later the EU's European Medicines Agency said it also was looking into the matter.

Illustration: A doctor viewing cancer cells through a microscope in a cancer research lab.Credit: Bloomberg

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