Diabetes drug breakthrough in heart failure treatment

Type 2 diabetes is something of a scourge of our times – and heart failure often accompanies diabetes, amplifying the problems GPs face in treating both conditions. Now research conducted by the University of Glasgow brings some very welcome good news for all patients experiencing heart failure

This is an edited version of an item which appeared on the BBC News Scotland website

A drug used successfully to treat type 2 diabetes can also be effective to treat heart failure, researchers at Glasgow University have said. They described the clinical implications of their findings as ‘potentially huge’.

Heart failure occurs when the heart can no longer pump blood around the body as well as it should. The prevalence of heart failure in people with type 2 diabetes is around double than in the general population without diabetes.

The drug, dapagliflozin, controls blood sugar levels, helps promote weight loss and reduces blood pressure. The team said it could also be used to treat pre-existing heart failure, even in patients without type 2 diabetes; dapagliflozin has already been proved to reduce the risk of developing heart failure in patients with the condition.

The Glasgow study analysed whether it could also be used to treat patients with type 2 diabetes in whom heart failure had already developed, and also to treat heart failure in patients without type 2 diabetes. It concluded that the drug reduced death rates and hospital stays, and improved the health-related quality of life in patients, whether they had type 2 diabetes or not.

‘Huge implications’

“The most important finding of all is the benefit in patients without diabetes,” said Professor John McMurray, professor of medical cardiology and deputy director of the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences at the University of Glasgow. “This shows dapagliflozin is truly a treatment for heart failure, and not just a drug for diabetes.

“The clinical implications are potentially huge – few drugs achieve these results in heart failure and dapagliflozin does so even when added to excellent standard therapy.”

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Dapagliflozin is one of a new class of diabetes drugs called sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT-2) inhibitors. Previous studies have shown they help control blood sugar levels, but can also promote weight loss, reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of death.

Heart failure occurs when the heart can no longer pump blood around the body as well as it should. The prevalence of heart failure in people with type 2 diabetes is around double than in the general population without diabetes.

“This shows dapagliflozin is truly a treatment for heart failure, and not just a drug for diabetes.”

Vanessa Smith, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said the study’s findings were welcome news because heart failure was a devastating, incurable illness which carried a prognosis worse than many cancers, despite advances in treatment. “In Scotland, around 46,000 people have been diagnosed with the condition by their GP,” she said. “However, there could be thousands more living with heart failure because it’s often first diagnosed in hospital.

“This remarkable study shows that a drug originally developed to treat diabetes improves survival for people with heart failure – regardless of whether they have diabetes or not.”

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