In the quest to stabilize high blood sugar levels, Onglyza has become a popular treatment for type-2 diabetes. However, Onglyza has recently been linked to pancreatic cancer. Onglyza (saxagliptin) was initially approved in 2009. By 2011, the joint developers, AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb, were able to bring in sales of more than $700 million.
Onglyza mimics the incretin hormone in the body which is a hormone the body produces naturally. The hormone stimulates insulin release by the pancreas and follows eating a meal. A study published in the medical journal Diabetes in 2013 revealed that the tissue in the pancreas of users of incretin mimetic drugs showed increased pancreatic mass along with cellular changes in the organ. These changes are described as precancerous.
Patients and physicians have reported cases of pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas. Pancreatitis is, at times, a precursor to developing pancreatic cancer, considered to be one of the deadliest kinds of cancer. Patients with pancreatic cancer usually have a rapid progression of the disease with a poor prognosis as it is typically diagnosed in a later stage. The symptoms of pancreatic cancer are nonspecific and do not point directly toward pancreatic problems.
In addition to the potential link between Onglyza and pancreatic cancer and pancreatitis, the drug has also been linked to thyroid cancer and heart failure. Heart failure, the body’s inability to pump sufficient blood to meet the demands of the body, was examined more closely by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There is now a warning label on Onglyza that details the risk of heart failure.