By Gary Pepper, M.D., August 18, 2008
I just returned from a conference on the latest wonder drug to be launched in the battle against diabetes Type 2 diabetes (the kind treated with pills, not insulin injections). The drug, brand named Byetta,(exenatide), is a derivative of a compound in the saliva of the Gila Monster. These ugly and venomous lizards eat 3 times per year. How about that for metabolism? Helping them accomplish that is a chemical in their digestive tract that turns insulin production on when needed. The scientific name of this naturally occurring substance is glucagon-like-peptide 1, or GLP-1, for short. Since diabetics don’t make enough insulin this wonder drug is ideal for helping them get more of what they need.
As if that isn’t enough, Byetta (the synthetic version of the compound in Gila Monster spit) turns off feelings of hunger. What is the result in humans? You guessed it,… weight loss. Not just routine weight loss but a weight loss that keeps on going and going and going. In one preliminary study the weight loss continued for up to 82 weeks.
Is there a downside to all this? Certainly. First of all, the medicine must be self administered as an injection twice a day. Second, some people experience nausea or constipation using Byetta. The degree of unpleasant gastro-intestinal symptoms produced by this novel medicine will likely determine how wide spread its use will be. One wonders if it could become the next blockbuster drug.
Byetta is marketed by Amylin Pharmaceuticals and Eli Lilly Company and is available by prescription only. If you suffer from Type 2 diabetes you may want to ask your doctor if artificial lizard spit is right for you.