Type 2 diabetes and obesity are complex diseases that can substantially lower a person’s quality of life and decrease their life expectancy. Losing weight is an important health goal for individuals struggling with obesity, especially those diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which is more common in overweight or obese people. Many people with type 2 diabetes and/or excess weight are prescribed the incretin mimetic drug liraglutide, which is available as an injectable medicine used to help lower blood sugar levels in diabetic patients (brand name Victoza) or to promote weight loss in obese or overweight individuals who also have weight-related medical problems (brand name Saxenda). Unfortunately, research has shown that using Victoza or Saxenda may put patients at risk for acute pancreatitis and pre-cancerous cells in the pancreas possibly leading to pancreatic cancer.
Victoza, Saxenda Linked to Serious Side Effects
Saxenda is a weight-loss injection prescribed for the treatment of obesity in adults. The drug is designed to suppress appetite by mimicking the effects of the hormone glucagon-like peptide (GLP-1), which is produced by the intestines and signals the brain when you are full. Saxenda contains liraglutide, an incretin mimetic drug that increases insulin release from the pancreas and reduces excess glucagon release. Liraglutide was initially approved for use in the United States in 2010 under the brand name Victoza, a medication used with diet and exercise to lower blood sugar in adults with type 2 diabetes. Saxenda, which contains a higher dose of liraglutide, was approved by the FDA as a weight-management medication in 2014.
Incretin mimetic drugs like Victoza and Saxenda can effectively treat type 2 diabetes and can also help certain patients lose weight and keep it off. However, because incretin mimetics stimulate cells in the pancreas, there have been growing concerns about the potential for these drugs to have an adverse effect on the pancreas. Back in 2007, shortly after the first incretin mimetic drugs entered the market, the FDA issued a warning about the potential for the medications to cause acute pancreatitis, or sudden-onset inflammation of the pancreas. Around this same time, the FDA began requiring the manufacturers of incretin mimetics to include stronger and more prominent pancreatitis warnings on their product labeling.
Pancreatitis and Pancreatic Cancer Risk
In the years since these first pancreatitis warnings were issued by the FDA, new incretin mimetic drugs have been approved and made available to consumers and new research has found that these medications may cause cell abnormalities in the pancreases of users, which may be a precursor to pancreatic cancer. In 2013, the FDA issued a drug safety communication indicating that the agency was investigating reports of “an increased risk of pancreatitis and pre-cancerous cellular changes called pancreatic duct metaplasia in patients with type 2 diabetes treated with a class of drugs called incretin mimetics.”
Victoza and Saxenda, both incretin mimetics, now carry warnings describing the potential risk of acute pancreatitis, which is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer. In fact, one study published in the journal Gastroenterology in 2018 found that patients hospitalized with acute pancreatitis are twice as likely to develop pancreatic cancer compared to the general population. The researchers found that while the cancer risk decreased over time, it remained high after more than five years of follow-up. According to the FDA, between 2010 and 2014, the first four years Victoza was on the market, the drug was named as the primary suspect in 348 deaths and more than 3,000 hospitalizations. And at least 100 of those Victoza-related patient deaths were due to pancreatic cancer.
Victoza and Saxenda Lawsuits Alleging Pancreatitis, Pancreatic Cancer
Pharmaceutical companies are responsible for the safety and efficacy of their medications and when they allow dangerous medications to enter the market and be used by consumers, they should be held liable for the harm they cause. Patients taking Victoza or Saxenda who have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and the survivors of those who died from pancreatic cancer allegedly caused by Victoza or Saxenda treatment may have a legal claim against Novo Nordisk. Hundreds of Victoza and Saxenda lawsuits have already been filed by patients who were diagnosed with acute pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer during or after treatment with the incretin mimetic drugs. The lawsuits allege, among other things, that the drug maker failed to provide consumers and healthcare providers with proper warnings about the potential for Victoza and Saxenda to cause damage to the pancreas. Because Victoza has been around longer, it has been used by more people, but Saxenda contains a much higher dose of liraglutide, which means the risk to users may be significantly higher.