New diabetes drug may have welcome side effect: weight loss

The Washington University Diabetes Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital focuses on providing patients with the latest technology, treatments and clinical research. Some patients at the center are receiving a new diabetes drug that may give a welcome side effect – weight loss.

Byetta, developed by Amylin Pharmaceuticals and Eli Lilly and Co., is designed to help patients with type 2 diabetes get better control of their condition by helping the body make more of its own insulin. The drug, a twice-daily injection, tells the pancreas to make the right amount of insulin after meals to bring blood sugar closer to normal levels. It also helps stop the liver from producing too much sugar when the body doesn’t need it, and helps slow down the rate at which sugar enters the bloodstream. It is typically used along with oral diabetes medications, and in some patients, it has led to weight loss.

Cris Welling
Cris Welling

One of the patients taking Byetta is Cris Welling, a research lab supervisor in the endocrinology/metabolism lab of M. Alan Permutt, M.D., professor of medicine and of cell biology and physiology. About five years ago, Welling volunteered to be a non-diabetic control in a University research study. When she went through the initial tests, she found out she had pre-diabetes.

Welling’s physician, Garry Tobin, M.D., associate professor of medicine and medical director of the diabetes center, had prescribed several other oral medications to treat her diabetes, but none helped her to lose weight. Since she began taking Byetta for type 2 diabetes about 10 months ago, she has lost about 40 pounds. She no longer needs medication for high blood pressure and has reduced the medication she takes for high cholesterol.

Tobin says Welling is a success story.

“Because of her participation in research at the School of Medicine, she was diagnosed at an early stage,” Tobin says. “She has access to the clinical care of multiple people at the School of Medicine, which gives her access to newer drugs.”

Byetta is not approved as a weight-loss drug, Tobin said, because it works to regulate blood sugar. People who do not have diabetes and take the drug could suffer from hypoglycemia, or dangerously low blood sugar.

Washington University School of Medicine’s full-time and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked fourth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.