What are Incretin Mimetics?

Type 2 diabetes patients undergoing treatment with a drug belonging to the incretin mimetic class, such as Onglyza, Victoza, or Saxenda, may be at risk for a wide range of serious or possibly even life-threatening medical conditions, such as heart failure, pancreatitis, and pancreatic cancer. While some people with type 2 diabetes have found the successful treatment of their disease with incretin mimetics, others have experienced devastating injuries or lost loved ones because of alleged incretin mimetic side effects. Despite these significant health risks, Onglyza, Victoza, and Saxenda are all still available for consumer use in the United States.

What are Incretin Mimetics?

Incretins are a group of hormones that are released by the body naturally in response to meals. These hormones stimulate the secretion of insulin by the pancreas, which in turn lowers a person’s blood sugar after eating. In people with type 2 diabetes, however, the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or doesn’t use insulin properly, which can result in high glucose levels. Incretin mimetic drugs are designed to address this potentially serious problem by acting like, or mimicking, the body’s natural incretin hormones and regulating blood sugar levels in adults with type 2 diabetes.

Types of Incretin Mimetics

Incretin mimetic drugs fall into two main categories: glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonists and dipeptidyl peptidase-4 (DPP-4) inhibitors. To understand how these medications work, you must first understand the function of GLP-1 and DPP-4. The incretin GLP-1 causes the pancreas to produce more insulin after a meal, which helps the body use glucose. However, the effects of GLP-1 on the pancreas only last a short while because an enzyme called DPP-4 breaks down GLP-1 in the blood. So, the purpose of GLP-1 agonists is to mimic the action of GLP-1 made by the body, while the purpose of DPP-4 inhibitors is to block the action of the DPP-4 enzyme.

Victoza and Saxenda

One of the most common incretin mimetics in the GLP-1 agonist category is liraglutide, sold under the brand names Victoza and Saxenda. Victoza was originally approved by the FDA in 2010 as a treatment for type 2 diabetes, while Saxenda was approved in 2014 as a weight-management medication for obese or overweight individuals who are also experiencing weight-related medical problems, such as type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure.


One of the most common incretin mimetics in the DPP-4 category is saxagliptin, sold under the brand name Onglyza. Onglyza has been on the market in the United States since 2009, and the drug is meant to be used with diet and exercise to control high blood sugar in adults with type 2 diabetes.

Possible Incretin Mimetic Side Effects

Although Victoza, Saxenda, and Onglyza are all classified as incretin mimetics, the medications have been linked to different side effects in users due to their unique mechanism of action. While Onglyza has been shown to increase the risk of congestive heart failure in type 2 diabetes patients, Saxenda and Victoza have been shown to increase the risk of pancreatic cancer and pancreatitis.

FDA Warnings About Incretin Mimetics

Over the past decade, the FDA has issued several warnings about the possibility of serious side effects occurring in patients taking drugs belonging to the incretin mimetic class. One of these warnings came in 2013, on the heels of new research indicating an “increased risk of pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, and pre-cancerous cellular changes called pancreatic duct metaplasia” in type 2 diabetes patients taking incretin mimetic medications like liraglutide (Victoza, Saxenda). Another FDA warning in 2014 underscored the potential risk of heart failure in patients with type 2 diabetes treated with saxagliptin (Onglyza). This particular warning was prompted by the findings of a study reporting a 27% increased rate of hospitalization for heart failure associated with Onglyza treatment. In 2016, the FDA added new warnings to the Onglyza drug label based on a safety review indicating that the medication “may increase the risk of heart failure, particularly in patients who already have heart or kidney disease.”

Pursuing Compensation for Incretin Mimetic Drug Injuries

Millions of adults in the United States are at high risk for type 2 diabetes and may end up being prescribed an incretin mimetic like Onglyza, Victoza, or Saxenda. Unfortunately, research has shown that type 2 diabetes patients taking these medications may face a greater risk of potentially life-threatening side effects like heart failure, pancreatitis, and pancreatic cancer. As a result, many incretin mimetic users and their loved ones are pursuing legal claims against the drug manufacturers, alleging that the companies manufactured dangerous drugs and failed to properly warn consumers about the serious health risks associated with the drugs.