- Several innovations in the management and treatment of diabetes were announced this year.
- Among them was the approval of a new medication, tirzepatide, which improves control of the measure of blood sugar levels in adults with type 2 diabetes.
- Health experts say the approval of the first immune therapy, which can delay the onset of type 1 diabetes, is also a major medical breakthrough.
For the 37.3 million Americans who are living with diabetes, 2022 marked a year of innovations.
This included treatments for better managing blood sugar control for type 2 diabetes while the Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug to delay the onset of type 1 diabetes.
Diabetes is a metabolic disease that leads to high blood glucose or blood sugar. There are three main forms of the disease, type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes,
Another form, type 1.5 diabetes, is relatively rare, an autoimmune disorder that appears gradually during one’s adult years and actually is unable to be treated through changes to lifestyle behaviors or diet.
If you have a form of diabetes, your body may not generate enough insulin (the hormone that transports energy-generating sugar from the bloodstream to your cells) or might not successfully make use of the insulin it does produce. High blood glucose levels that remain unchecked can result in something of a negative domino effect on your health. This could mean damage to crucial organs and systems such as your blood vessels, kidneys, and eyes, among others.
When reflecting on the diabetes research and drug developments of the past year, Dr. Matthew Freeby, the director of the UCLA Gonda Diabetes Center, told Healthline that “each of these breakthroughs are exciting because they make diabetes a little easier to treat and take care of on a day-to-day basis.”
Freeby explained that anyone living with type 1 or type 2 diabetes knows these are chronic conditions that can be difficult to manage in the day-to-day.
“Anything we can do to make things a little bit easier is really important, and I think each of these breakthroughs to help patients…and potentially improve outcomes in the longer term,” Freeby said.
Here’s a look at some of the most promising innovations, medical breakthroughs, and headlines in diabetes management and prevention from 2022.
As a physician-scientist, Dr. Mark Anderson, PhD, head of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Diabetes Center, told Healthline that, while he does see adult clinical patients, his main focus is on research on “why diabetes happens,” with a particular focus on type 1.
“I’m more of an immunologist than an endocrinologist because type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, where the immune system makes a mistake and kills the cells that make insulin in the pancreas, so this takes up a lot of my attention,” he said.
To that point, the biggest diabetes moment of 2022 for Anderson was
Anderson said this announcement was “a huge deal.”
The drug, teplizumab-mzwv, goes by the name Tzield. It’s an injection aimed to delay the onset of stage 3 type 1 diabetes in adults in addition to pediatric patients who are eight years and older who have stage 2 type 1 diabetes,
If you have type 1 diabetes, it means that you will need regular insulin infusions or wear an insulin pump on your body. It requires vigilance, routinely checking your blood glucose levels.
The condition is generally diagnosed in young adults and children, but you might be at higher risk if you have a sibling or a parent with the condition. That being said, many people who live with this condition don’t have a family history of it at all, the FDA reports.
This newly approved medication bonds to specific immune cells, putting off the progression of the disease. It could even deactivate immune cells that fight your cells that generate insulin, as well as create more cells that assist with immune response moderation. This injectable medication is prescribed to be delivered every day for 14 days in a row.
When it came to the clinical trials, Anderson said it was remarkable how “some people ended up never getting diabetes who should have gotten diabetes. To me, this is the biggest breakthrough by a long shot in the field.”
Back in May, the FDA approved a new double-targeted treatment for type 2 diabetes — tirzepatide, which goes by the brand name Mounjaro from Eli Lilly and Co. The injectable medication improves control of A1C levels, the measure of blood sugar levels, in adults with type 2 diabetes, in addition to diet and exercise,
Freeby, of UCLA, explained that the tirzepatide is a dual GIP/GLP-1 receptor agonist — a drug that attaches itself to a receptor that’s either on or inside a cell and causes the same kind of action as the kinds of substances that normally affix themselves to the receptor.
In this case, tirzepatide is the first-in-class medication that activates the receptors for both glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP), which are hormones that play a role in regulating blood sugar. The drug is injected on a weekly basis, with the dosage shifted depending on specific individuals’ blood sugar targets.
“Compared to one of our stronger GLP-1 receptor agonist medications Semaglutide, or Ozempic, just comparing them head-to-head, this definitely performs greater in terms of weight loss in the clinical trial and stronger A1C and glucose-lowering effects,” Freeby added.
While not officially approved for this use, tirzepatide was recently fast-tracked by the FDA as an official weight loss medication. One clinical trial revealed the drug reduced the weight of participants by up to about 22%.
The drug has been well received by those using diabetes medications.
However, the FDA recently flagged shortages of Mounjaro as drug maker Eli Lily has been facing difficulty meeting the high demand.
Anderson, of UCSF, pointed to the fact that during these discussions of these diabetes medications’ effectiveness in treating obesity, it has inspired “people without diabetes using [the drug] to lose weight.”
Celebrities and social media influencers have extolled how type 2 diabetes drugs like Ozempic have led to weight loss results. On social media, phrases like “post-Ozempic body” have been trending among some bold-faced names you might recognize, Vogue reports.
This has contributed to a shortage of Ozempic, with providers frustrated that a drug needed for those living with diabetes — and not officially approved for weight loss — has become scarcer due to people who may be misusing it.
These drugs can have some side effects like nausea and gastrointestinal symptoms. Experts caution that you should always consult a healthcare professional before going on any new medical regimen and not use any medication for a function it is not meant for.
SGLT2 inhibitors, which are drugs that manage blood glucose in people with type 2 diabetes, are nothing new. They’ve previously been shown to benefit treating kidney disease and heart failure, for example.
Freeby said this year just saw the continued role of drugs like Jardiance in reducing the risk of heart failure and kidney failure.
“We’ve seen data out in the last few years, and some out this year as well, that has shown the benefit of this class of medication with heart failure with preserved ejection traction heart failure, which is not always easy to treat and not shown strong outcomes with other medications,” he added.
Recently, a phase III clinical trial showed Jardiance is the first SGLT2 inhibitor to show a statistically significant reduction in blood sugar levels in children and teens with type 2 diabetes.
Freeby said we will see more “of these agonist drugs moving forward, instead of single and dual agonist, we will see even triple and beyond, at least in these clinical trials, if not approvals.”
“I think that is exciting from an overall diabetes control perspective,” Freeby added.
For his part, Anderson said this late 2022 approval of Tzield, the type 1 diabetes therapy, was significant in that it opens the door for more innovations, not unlike what has happened with cancer immunotherapies over the past decade or so.
He explained how our ability to treat certain cancers with “drugs that take the breaks off your own immune system to kill the cancer” (what are called checkpoint inhibitors) resulted in an “explosion” of research and drug development. Once one new drug “works a little bit,” then the floodgates open for increased innovation, he stressed.
“I think with type 1 diabetes, we haven’t gotten quite there yet,” Anderson said. “The fact that a door has been opened that this is a path that gets you to the clinic is a big deal.”