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Report: Newer Diabetes Drugs Cost More, But May Not Work Better

Researchers see opportunity for substantial savings (February 27)

Two newer classes of drugs to treat adult-onset diabetes may be no more effective than an old standby, and yet they cost significantly more over the course of a patient’s disease.

That’s the conclusion of a National Science Foundation-funded study by researchers at the University of Michigan, the Mayo Clinic, and North Carolina State University.

Based on a simulation model that utilized 15 years’ worth of data from more than 37,000 patients, the researchers found that the newer drugs cost patients and insurance companies $1,600 to $2,400 more from the time a person is diagnosed until he or she develops heart problems, circulatory complications, or dies.

Approximately 25 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, so the researchers say the new findings offer an opportunity for substantial savings.

The simulation model compared the newer diabetes drugs known as dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) inhibitors and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonists with an older treatment, sulfonylurea. These agents all have different mechanisms for stabilizing patients’ blood sugar levels.

DPP-4 inhibitors are marketed as Januvia (sitagliptin, Merck), Onglyza (saxagliptin, Bristol-Myers Squibb/AstraZeneca), and Tradjenta (linagliptin, Boehringer Ingelheim/Lilly). Popular GLP-1 agonists include Byetta (exenatide, Bristol-Myers Squibb/AstraZeneca) and Victoza (liraglutide, Novo Nordisk).

In the years since the newer drugs have been introduced, many physicians have shifted to prescribing them over the older sulfonylurea — partially because they don’t have the risk of hypoglycemia and weight gain that sulfonylurea can have. But the shift is partially to blame for a rise in the cost of diabetes medications and management, the study shows.

Source: University of Michigan; February 27, 2014.

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