DANISH multinational pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk recently launched a once-weekly injectable treatment for Type 2 diabetes that stimulates insulin (a hormone that regulates the amount of sugar in the blood), suppresses glucagon (a hormone that causes the release of sugar in the blood), and decreases appetite and food intake.

The drug is delivered using the shortest and thinnest needle — about as thin as two human hairs — available from Novo Nordisk.

“This is welcome news,” said Dr. Michael L. Villa, president of the Philippine Society of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, in a May 6 webinar organized by the pharmaceutical company. “Patients will have less pain and better compliance. Once a week is a very convenient form of delivery for medication.” (Some people with Type 2 diabetes have to inject insulin every day.)

The new drug belongs to a class of antidiabetic medications that mimic the actions of glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1), a naturally occurring hormone produced in the gut that enhances insulin secretion. According to Dr. Villa, these medications, called GLP-1 receptor agonists, have a unique mechanism that affects different organ systems: apart from improving blood sugar levels, they also reduce cardiovascular risk by modifying the progression of atherosclerosis (the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries) and reducing blood pressure and body weight.

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when the body’s blood glucose is too high. Over time, high blood sugar can lead to problems such as heart disease, kidney disease, and nerve damage. More than 32% of those with Type 2 diabetes — or the type where cells don’t respond normally to insulin — have cardiovascular complications.

“Type 2 makes up for about 85% of the patient population with diabetes,” Dr. Villa said in a press statement. “These are mostly adult patients with multiple risk factors. Some are smokers, some are hypertensive, some have cholesterol problems. This is exactly why we are raising concerns with these types of patients.”

Diabetes spells heart attack (or a myocardial infarction, to use the medical term) for cardiologists like Dr. Gilbert C. Vilela, vice-president of the Philippine Heart Association. “You know how they say that cardiovascular disease is a traitor? They’re correct,” he said, explaining that patients with diabetes are more likely to have high levels of bad cholesterol. “This leads to low-grade inflammation, which silently but persistently hardens the blood vessels.”

Approximately four million adults in the Philippines were diagnosed with diabetes in 2020, according to the International Diabetes Federation. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, it was the fourth leading cause of death among Filipinos last year, accounting for approximately 37,300 thousand deaths. — Patricia B. Mirasol