Tag Archives: metformin

New Diabetes Medications Cost 100 Times More than Established Treatments


by Gary Pepper, M.D.

“New is not always better.” This caution seems reasonable when considering the value of the recently approved medications for treatment of Type 2 (adult type) diabetes.  These drugs include three new classes of medication referred to as GLP-1 analogs, DPP-4 inhibitors and most recently SGLT-2 inhibitors. The focus of this discussion will be the most widely prescribed of the newcomers, the DPP-4 inhibitors.

The first thing consumers will notice about thehttp://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-expensive-medicine-image3053770 new diabetes medications are their TV commercial friendly names,  Januvia, Onglyza, Tradjenta, and Nesina.  Mix these newcomer drugs together into a single pill with the venerable low cost generic metformin and the names becomes Janumet, Kombiglyze, Jentadueto, and Kazano.

The next thing a consumer will notice is the price tag. At the local pharmacy in Jupiter, Florida the retail prices of a 3 month supply of Januvia, Onglyza or Tradjenta are all about $1100.  A three month supply of the established generic drug, glipizide, is $9.99 and metformin is between zero and $41. Continue reading

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Infertility to Acne: Treatment and Prevention of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Part 2


Worried about pregnancyIn part one of this series we looked at the cause of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and the many complications it causes. Weight gain, acne, excess hair growth on the face and body,  high cholesterol and high blood sugar due to insulin resistance are among the problems associated with PCOS.  One particular area of concern for PCOS sufferers is infertility due to lack of ovulation. PCOS is the cause of anovulatory infertility in  3 out of 4 cases. Before the acceptance of medical therapy for infertility due to PCOS  a surgical approach referred to as a wedge resection of the ovary was performed which allowed patients with PCOS to ovulate and conceive normally. Low success rates with this procedure, complications of surgery and improved medical therapies have all resulted in the end of this type of treatment in most situations.  At present, treatment of infertility associated with PCOS generally consists of using a drug to combat insulin resistance known as metformin often in combination with the fertility drug clomid, which has a high rate of success.

Treatment of the excess hair growth associated with PCOS often consists of using the drug spironalactone and the use of birth control pills. Spironalactone is a very interesting drug used for decades as a salt depleting diuretic but also has an effect to block the action of the male hormone testosterone. The action of spironalactone to block testosterone was discovered when it was noticed that men using this diuretic developed tender nipples and breast enlargement (gynecomastia). Oral contraceptive agents are also useful to combat hirsutism because these agents also cause reduce testosterone levels by putting the ovary in a dormant “resting” state.  Cosmetic procedures are always another option to treat unwanted hair growth. Laser hair removal appears to be replacing the older modality of electrolysis for this purpose.

Can PCOS be cured? Once PCOS develops it can be controlled but not cured unless the ovaries are removed. At menopause  PCOS-related problems diminish as the ovary stops making sex hormones including testosterone which is one of the culprits during the reproductive years. A recent study published this year in the journal Pediatric Endocrinology showed that using metformin treatment in pre-adolescent girls thought to be at risk for PCOS reduces the risk and/or the severity of PCOS in later years. It may do this by blocking fat accumulation in the abdomen and liver which seems to set off the insulin resistance. Metformin is not FDA approved for this purpose and as a generic drug there is little profit potential in developing this treatment. I expect it will be many years before preventive therapy for PCOS will come before the FDA for approval .

This information is strictly for educational purposes. Due to high risk of toxicity of medical therapy in young women who can potentially become fertile under treatment for PCOS, no drug should be taken without the close supervision of a physician. The reader agrees to the Terms of Service of this website, metabolism.com

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New Diabetes Treatment Guidelines Flawed


New Diabetes Treatment Guidelines Lack Credibility:

Recently the American Academy of Clinical Endocrinologists issued new treatment guidelines for treating Type 2 Diabetes. Complex medical guidelines are often referred to as a treatment algorithm. One of the stated goals of the AACE algorithm is to focus primarily on the theoretical ability of the diabetic medications to control blood sugar while ignoring the cost of the medication. The rationale to this approach is that controlling blood sugar with more expensive drugs will cost less in the long run since patients will be healthier and have less complications due better control of the blood sugar. On the surface this philosophy seems sound but digging beneath the surface reveals dangerous flaws in this thinking.

1. The first assumption, that newer medications for diabetes are better than older drugs is unsubstantiated. In fact there is ample evidence that newer diabetic drugs are no better than the older drugs for controlling blood sugar. The latest study finding no benefit of the newer diabetes medications is the FIELD study conducted outside of the U.S. This study showed that 5 years of treatment with the older diabetic drugs (sulfonylureas, metformin and insulin) resulted in adequate and prolonged control of blood sugar. In 2007 researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health summarized the results of major studies using older and newer anti-diabetic medications and found no significant benefit of the newer medications.

2. The next assumption, that cost is not a key factor in treatment success contradicts most clinicians’ experience in diabetes care. It is clear to me, that patients are far less likely to comply with using expensive drugs than medications they can more easily afford. Looking at the numbers reveals the vast cost differences between the older (generic) versus the newer (brand) medications. Using figures provided by a local pharmacy I found that the retail cost of a typical two drug therapy for diabetes using older drugs is $59 per month. The retail cost of using two of the new drugs for a month ranges from $481 to $570. In more severe diabetes three drugs per day may be needed. The low cost alternative amounts to $185 per month while the high end alternative with new drugs is $610 per month. Looking at the cost of using insulin shows a similar vast cost difference between the older and newer drugs. Older forms of insulin may cost $100 for a month’s supply while a similar course of therapy with the newer insulin preparations will cost almost $250 per month. How many people will be willing and able to afford the new versus the old drugs, particularly knowing that there may be no health benefit to the more expensive drug combination?

The end result of not being able to afford these prices is non-compliance with medications and the result of non-compliance is higher costs passed on to the medical system. The Medco study from 2005 showed that the least compliant patients were more than twice as likely to be hospitalized compared to the most compliant, and that the yearly cost of caring for non-compliant patients is double that of compliant patients.

3. My next point is possibly the most contentious. The AACE guidelines were produced by a committee of physicians chaired by two distinguished endocrinologists, Dr. Paul Jellinger and Dr. Helena Rodbard. Both doctors are highly respected and accomplished. They are also both highly compensated consultants to the pharmaceutical companies which market the newest generation of diabetes medications. In the disclaimer attached to the committee’s recommendations, both Dr. Jellinger and Dr. Rodbard admit to consulting arrangements with virtually every one of the pharmaceutical companies whose interests are effected by their committee’s findings. I too am a consultant to many of these same companies (at least, until now), but I am not responsible for developing national guidelines for diabetes care. In my opinion the close association of both committee chairmen to the pharmaceutical companies detracts heavily from the credibility of their recommendations. The need for credibility is even more important when the AACE committee advises physicians to avoid using sulfonylureas, the only class of drugs not marketed by any of the big pharma companies. and which also happens to be the cheapest drug class, the drugs with the longest history of use, and the class of drugs many regard as the most effective at lowering blood sugar levels. The sulfonylurea class of drugs is so effective at lowering blood sugar, in fact, they are used as the gold standard by which the effectiveness of all new diabetic medications are compared.

4. In contrast with the AACE, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) has issued more conservative guidelines for diabetic therapy, preserving the role of the older generic drugs. My recommendation is that AACE go back to their committee and reconsider the way they have produced their algorithm. Appointing new leadership whose credentials do not lend themselves so readily to skepticism, would be an important first step in that process.

Gary Pepper, M.D.
Editor-in-Chief, Metabolism.com

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