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Type 2 diabetes could be ‘reversed’ if patients use a pioneering once-a-week jab, experts say

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A once-a-week injection can put type 2 diabetes patients ‘into remission’ – lowering blood sugar to normal levels, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, and helping patients lose a stone and a half or more.

The results of a pivotal study on the drug, announced last week at the annual conference of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, showed it far outperformed current treatment regimens, offering hope to people with the incurable condition.

The new drug, tirzepatide, is so effective that it could provide patients with a viable alternative to weight loss surgery, which is currently the most effective method for treating patients who need to lose large amounts of weight and put their type 2 diabetes into remission.

The cost of an operation privately can range from £4,000 to £15,000 depending on the type of procedure, and fewer than 7,000 such operations are performed by the NHS each year.

Tirzepatide is not yet licensed, but it is expected to provide the NHS with savings on the cost of surgery, experts say.

There are currently more than 4.5 million Britons who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and 13.6 million people are said to be at risk of developing it.

Tirzepatide once-weekly shot can put type 2 diabetes patients ‘into remission’ – lowering blood sugar to normal levels, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, and helping patients lose a stone and a half or more

The findings add to a growing body of evidence about the treatment’s remarkable effectiveness, meaning health leaders may now consider giving the green light.

“It’s about choice,” said Melanie Davies, professor of Diabetes Medicine at the University of Leicester, principal investigator of the global trial.

‘Surgery is only available for a small minority of patients. Having drugs that give comparable results was unheard of until a few years ago, but that will probably be the case in the near future.’

One of the first type 2 diabetes patients to benefit from tirzepatide, an astonishing fourth lost after four months of weekly self-administered injections.

Retired telecoms boss David Batson, 64, from Leicestershire, who took part in the trial between December 2019 and March 2020, also saw his blood sugar fall within the non-diabetic range and his blood pressure return to normal.

“And I accomplished it all by doing nothing but sitting in my living room and reading a few books,” he said.

Tirzepatide is a new type of drug that combines an existing form of medication called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists, and a new, similar drug known as a glucose-dependent insulinotropic peptide, or GIP.

GLP-1 receptor agonists have been in use for about a decade and have transformed the treatment of type 2 diabetes.

Given alongside other diabetes medications, such as metformin, they work by mimicking naturally occurring hormones involved in digestion and helping patients who find they can’t lose weight through diet and exercise alone.

The drugs send signals to the brain, help curb appetite, stimulate the body to use glucose in the blood, and lower the amount of sugar digested and absorbed from food.

A number of GLP-1 receptor agonists are now available, including exenatide, liraglutide, and semaglutide, which are available in both injection and tablet form.

However, the inclusion of a second active ingredient, GIP, is what some experts say makes tirzepatide more effective.

GIP works similarly to GLP-1 receptor agonists, mimicking a naturally occurring digestive hormone and stimulating both the release of insulin and the absorption of sugar from the blood.

On its own, it was ineffective in treating type 2 diabetes — for reasons not fully understood. But in combination with other drugs, it had a transformative effect.

During the study, 1,879 patients – mostly middle-aged – were given self-injector pens.

There are currently more than 4.5 million Britons who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and 13.6 million people are said to be at risk of developing it.

There are currently more than 4.5 million Britons who are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and 13.6 million people are said to be at risk of developing it.

They were instructed to take a dose of tirzepatide or semaglutide once a week for up to ten months.

The new drug outperformed semaglutide in every way, giving greater weight loss and better blood sugar control, even at the lowest doses.

Professor Naveed Sattar, an expert in diabetes and metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow, welcomed the new findings.

“In some ways, these drugs mimic the process of remission,” he said. “The key to developing diabetes is usually the build-up of excess fat in the liver and other organs. By losing a lot of weight, that is removed, so that the body can function normally again.’

Mr. Batson is convinced of the effectiveness of tirzepatide after his short stay on it. Seven years ago, he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure after a routine midlife health check.

David, who lives with his chef wife Elizabeth, began the trial in December 2019 when he weighed 18. In March, after taking tirzepatide for four months, he weighed 14th.

“I looked like a different person,” he said. ‘My clothes didn’t fit anymore. I did feel a bit more tired, because the weight loss was going so fast.

But other than that, and I felt a little nauseous for the first few days of treatment, there were no side effects. I still ate, but I was less hungry – I didn’t have the same appetite as before.’

Since he stopped taking tirzepatide, David has laid a stone. “I’d like to come back to it,” he said. “I know how serious diabetes is – people can eventually go blind and have limbs amputated. I want to avoid that.’

CRAZY SCIENCE

If everyone washes their hands well with soap, it would save more than half a million lives a year.

Studies have shown that washing with soap reduces the risk of diarrhea by 45 percent and pneumonia by 23 percent.

These two diseases together kill nearly two million children under the age of five in Asia and Africa each year.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine estimate that if everyone in the world washed their hands regularly, the number of infant deaths from these preventable diseases would be drastically reduced by as much as 600,000.

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