Health Team

New study looks at delayed-release drug for diabetics

Posted August 27, 2015 5:45 p.m. EDT
Updated August 27, 2015 6:19 p.m. EDT

In 1997, Terry Farmer discovered he had cancer, which led to surgery to remove his left kidney.

It was also when he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. The treatment was a simple pill called metformin. It was only introduced in the United States two years earlier.

“And very rapidly, it became the go-to drug therapy for patients with Type 2 diabetes,” said Dr. John Buse, an endocrinologist and the director of the Diabetes Care Center at UNC Hospitals.

Like many who take the drug, Farmer, 68, started experiencing gastro-intestinal side effects from metforim.

“IBS - irritable bowel syndrome - runs in my family, so I just thought that's what it was,” Farmer said.

About a third of Type 2 diabetic patients cannot take metformin, either due to gastrointestinal complaints or impaired kidney function that causes the metformin to build up in the blood and create a life-threatening condition called lactic-acidosis.

In a new study, UNC researchers have found evidence that metformin works largely in the lower small intestine.

“And causing these intestinal cells to secrete hormones - like GLP1 - that are very important for blood sugar control in diabetes,” Buse said.

Buse said the research was done along with a San Diego company called Elcelyx. They are investigating a delayed release form of metformin “with the idea that if you don't allow the drug to be absorbed into the blood stream, then you don't have to worry about issues around kidney function,” he said.

Farmer is hopeful that he and many other Type 2 diabetics could benefit from such a drug in the future.

“Well, I would be very happy to go back on a pill as opposed to taking these shots,” he said.