Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Diabetes Drug Reduces Heart and Kidney Diseases

A drug that lowers blood sugar levels for people with type 2 diabetes also significantly reduces the risk of both cardiovascular and kidney disease, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers at The George Institute for Global Health found that the drug canagliflozin reduced the overall risk of cardiovascular disease by 14% and reduced the risk of hospitalisation due to heart failure by 33%. It also had a significant impact on the progression of renal disease.

Most diabetes drugs work by managing insulin levels, but canagliflozin is a relatively new type of drug that works by blocking the body’s reabsorption of sugar or glucose. This results in the release of more glucose in urine and a drop in glucose levels.

Prof Bruce Neal said the findings offered real hope to people suffering from type 2 diabetes. “Coronary heart disease is the biggest killer by far for people with type 2 diabetes. Our findings suggest that not only does canagliflozin significantly reduce the risk of heart disease, it also has many other benefits too. We found it also reduced blood pressure and led to weight loss.

“Type 2 diabetes is growing rapidly all over the world, and we need drugs that not only deal with glucose levels but that also protect the many millions of people from the very real risks of stroke and heart attack.”

Around 65% of all cardiovascular deaths occur in people with diabetes or pre-diabetes, and diabetes is also the leading cause of end-stage kidney disease. It also reinforces an association between blood sugar-lowering drugs and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

Co-author Prof Vlado Perkovi of The George Institute Australia said: “This really is a game-changer in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. It not only reduces the risk of heart disease, it also provides real protection against kidney decline, which affects many people with diabetes.”

However, the study found that patients given the drug were twice as likely to suffer from amputations. “We don’t know why there was an increased risk of amputation, and further work is needed in this area,” Neal said. “But for now we urge caution in prescribing this drug to people at increased risk of suffering amputation.”

A further study on the benefits of canagliflozin related to kidney disease will be published later this year.