Controversial Cholesterol Drug Might Lower Blood Sugar
Levels in Diabetics07/18/11
MONDAY, July 18 (HealthDay News) -- Australian researchers have
discovered that a drug initially designed to raise levels of "good"
HDL cholesterol has an unexpected benefit in people with type 2
diabetes: it lowered their blood sugar.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that this particular medication, torcetrapib,
also has a significantly increased risk of cardiovascular problems
and mortality. In fact, the problems were so significant with
torcetrapib that the initial trial, known as ILLUMINATE, was halted
early. However, there are two other medications -- dalcetrapib and
anacetrapib -- in the same drug class as torcetrapib that don't
appear to have the same heart risks, according to the study
What remains to be seen is if these other drugs have the same
benefits that torcetrapib did.
"Diabetic patients in the ILLUMINATE trial who received the combination of atorvastatin plus torcetrapib had lower levels of [short-term and long-term blood sugar] than those receiving atorvastatin alone, indicating that treatment with torcetrapib, compared with placebo, resulted in improvement in diabetic control," wrote the Australian researchers.
Atorvastatin, better known by its brand name, Lipitor, is a
statin that's commonly prescribed to reduce levels of LDL, or
Results of the Australian study are published in the Aug. 2
Type 2 diabetes is a major risk factor for the development of
cardiovascular disease, and significantly increases the likelihood
of having a heart attack, according to background information in
the study. Dyslipidemia (which means high LDL levels and low HDL
levels) is common for people with type 2 diabetes.
The drug torcetrapib is from a class of medications called CETP
inhibitors. These drugs help raise levels of HDL cholesterol.
The ILLUMINATE trial included 6,661 people with type 2 diabetes
between the ages of 45 and 75. Almost 4,000 of the people with type
2 diabetes had a history of cardiovascular disease at the start of
All of the study participants were given lifestyle education and
the LDL-lowering drug, atorvastatin. They were then randomly placed
into one of two groups: one group received 60 milligrams of
torcetrapib daily, while the other group received placebo
The trial was stopped in 2006 when it was determined that people
in the torcetrapib group had significantly more cardiovascular
problems and deaths than those in the placebo group. According to
the Australian researchers, the increased risk of cardiovascular
problems probably wasn't due to the CETP inhibition, but to other
actions of the drug. They suspect that the other medications in
this class of medicines won't have the same detrimental
For the current study, the researchers went back through the
data to examine the drug's effect on blood sugar. They found
fasting blood sugar levels were lower for the torcetrapib group,
and hemoglobin A1C levels (a test that provides a two- to
three-month average of blood sugar levels) were also lower -- 7.29
percent in the placebo group and 7.06 percent in the torcetrapib
group, according to the study.
"This is a mild drop in blood sugar. For someone who averages 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) each day, this would bring them down to around 140 mg/dL," explained Dr. Spyros Mezitis, an attending endocrinologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
"I don't think these are powerful anti-diabetic agents, but it's an added effect, and it makes sense if we can treat several risk factors with one drug," said Dr. Joel Zonszein, director of the Clinical Diabetes Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
Zonszein said there's no clear explanation for how this
medication might be lowering blood sugar levels, but notes that
type 2 diabetes and cholesterol problems are very closely
Both Zonszein and Mezitis said it remains to be seen whether or
not the other drugs in this class of medications will be safer than
torcetrapib, and whether they also have the same effects on blood
Mezitis added, "This won't change practice for now. We need more
studies to understand the pathophysiology, and we need solid
cardiovascular evidence for the other agents in this class."
To learn more about the connection between type 2 diabetes and
cholesterol, visit the
American Diabetes Association.
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