The Biomedical Research Institute’s (IBI) most prestigious annual meeting, BIOCAPS, was recently held in Vigo, Spain, gathering experts from nine countries to discuss advancements in biomedical and therapeutic research regarding diabetes and obesity, now at epidemic levels in the developed world, and emphasizing a new generation of incretin-based drugs as the most promising new therapeutic approach to treat these two conditions.
Incretins are gastrointestinal hormones released into the bloodstream minutes after the ingestion of food. Physiologically, these hormones increase the release of insulin from pancreatic cells, thus controlling and decreasing glucose levels. During the meeting, the use of glucagon-like peptide 2 (GLP-2), a type of incretin, was discussed as an alternative to the use of insulin in the treatment of diabetes. Dr. Flavia Mulè, from the University of Palermo (Italy), discussed the beneficial effects of this course of treatment. Dr. Mulè argued that GLP-2, only tested in animal models so far, deserves attention from the research community as a human therapy, specially due to its ability to improve patients’ sensitivity to insulin.
Dr. Mulè further explained the mechanism of action of GLP-2 in a news release, “In addition, its action is related to anti-inflammatory effects, thus meaning that it could be beneficial for associated disorders, such as high blood fat levels (hyperlipidaemia), fatty liver and hypertension.” These compounds also present other qualities, such as potential cardioprotective, antiarteriosclerotic and anti-inflammatory effects, that make them ideal to treat a combination of diseases.
Dr. Javier Salvador, from the University of Navarra, further discussed that medicines based on incretins have an effective and broad spectrum of action, without the downsides of other medicines used in the treatment of diabetes and obesity. Dr. Salvador argued that existing medicines to treat the combination of these two conditions, by controlling glucose levels and inducing weight loss, risked of causing hypoglycemia as a side effect.
“Sulfonylureas, glitazones and insulin are medicines with a known ability to control glucose levels but which also tend to result in weight gain and can provoke hypoglycaemia,” the researcher said while discussing a new compound, dulaglutide, as a promising alternative for treatment. The medicine, with a satiating effect and reducted risk of hypoglycemia, is set to become available in the near future.
Dr. Timo Muller, from the IDO in Munich, presented his group’s work in the development of incretin complexes, some of which are in clinical trial phase. “We have experience in creating molecules that are able to activate mechanisms which benefit metabolism, correcting problems such as obesity and insulin resistance”, explained Dr. Muller, “We can transport the medicine directly to target cells while keeping it away from other tissues, thus minimizing undesired side-effects”.
Other themes highlighted at the meeting included the physiopathology of adipose tissue (fatty tissue) and complications related to diabetes and obesity (such as Parkinson’s disease, arteriosclerosis, ophthalmological diseases). A concluding discussion focused on the most recent developments in, and pressing complications of, treating these pathologies.