Diabetes drugs Januvia (Merck) and Byetta (Bristol-Myers Squibb) were linked to double the risk of pancreatitis in a recent study, Bloomberg reported. The news may affect the way doctors choose to treat the 25 million Americans with type 2 diabetes. According to the study published on Feb. 25, 2013, in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal, patients taking Januvia or Byetta were twice as likely as those who took other drugs to end up in the hospital with pancreatitis – inflammation of the pancreas that can be fatal. Research found that the inflammation results from pancreatic lesions caused by the drugs. This concerns doctors because pancreatitis can lead to additional serious problems like pancreatic cancer and kidney failure. Januvia (sitagliptin), an oral medication, and Byetta (exenatide), an injectable medication, both increase amounts of GLP-1, a hormone in the body that stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin. In addition to insulin, the pancreas also produces digestive enzymes, and if these enzymes are activated before leaving the pancreas they can actually digest the tissue of the organ, causing inflammation, abdominal pain, fever and nausea. The findings of the study have doctors calling for more research into how GLP-1 drugs work in the body. In a statement, the study's author, Dr. Sonal Singh, said: "This is the first real study to give an estimate of what the risk is; until now we just had a few case reports. We really need to know more about these drugs, as pancreatitis is on the pathway to pancreatic cancer." Other doctors like Aaron Cypress of Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston said that the results of the study will not change how he treats his patients. Cypress told Reuters, "For me personally it's not going to change my practice pattern in terms of stopping the drugs, but we may revisit whether you're showing any of the risk factors." Pancreatitis currently affects about 3 in 1,000 diabetes patients. The new study indicates that the number jumps to 6 in 1,000 for patients taking Januvia or Byetta.
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