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Diabetes Treatments Linked to Doubling Risk for Pancreatitis

Update Date: Feb 27, 2013 11:23 AM EST

Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb's diabetes drugs, Januvia and Byetta, have been linked to doubling a patient's risk of getting pancreatitis. According to a new study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine, the two drug treatments appear to increase the risk significantly for the inflammation of the pancreas, which can lead to cancer and kidney failure in their patients.  Sonal Singh, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, headed the study.

Singh and his team of researchers looked for patterns from hospital insurance records. The team found that patients who sought treatment for pancreatitis were also two times more likely to be using Januvia or Byetta than other diabetic patients. Singh's discovery provided more concrete evidence that the diabetes drugs can cause pancreatitis. Before this finding, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did flag the drugs for their possible effects on the pancreas based off of a few cases.

In 2007, the FDA noted certain cases of pancreatitis from patients using Byetta. In 2008, the agency required Byetta to revise its warning label after the FDA recorded six Byetta patient deaths. In 2009, Januvia was also flagged as a possible risk for patients in developing complications. However, the agency did not have enough evidence to successfully link the drugs to pancreatitis.

Both drug companies are denying their drugs' relationship to pancreatic cancer stating that there is no evidence proving the casual relationship. Both drugs bring in a lot of profit for their respective companies. Januvia brought in $4 billion for Merck last year and is also a part of Merck's other drug, Janumet that brought in $1.65 billion.  Byetta contributed $148 million in sales for Bristol-Myers and AstraZeneca.

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