The drug canagliflozin was developed to lower glucose levels in people with diabetes but latest research has shown that it also protects against kidney failure.
It also significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular complications including heart failure, which are common among people with kidney disease.
The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, show heart failure is reduced by over 30 percent, and major cardiovascular events, such as heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular death, by about 20 percent. The study has also found that incidents of hospitalization for heart failure have reduced by 39 percent, while there has been no increased risk of major side effects.
In a statement issued on the occasion, lead author Vlado Perkovic of The George Institute for Global Health said there was an urgent need for this new treatment given the rising rates of diabetes.
“Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure worldwide but for almost two decades there have been no new treatments to protect kidney function,” he said. “This definitive trial result is a major medical breakthrough as people with diabetes and kidney disease are at extremely high risk of kidney failure, heart attack, stroke and death. We now have a very effective way to reduce this risk using a daily pill.”
Researchers say the results, which were presented at the ISN World Congress of Nephrology in Melbourne on April 16, can be implemented immediately as the drug is already available.
The study recruited 4,401 patients with diabetes and kidney disease from 34 countries around the world. Half of the patients were given canagliflozin on top of best available current care for kidney disease, according to current guidelines – using either angiotensin – converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs). The control group received a placebo along with the best available care.
The researchers have also found that the drug canagliflozin, a sodium glucose transporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitor, was less effective at lowering blood sugar in people with reduced kidney function but still led to less kidney failure, heart failure and cardiovascular events such as heart attacks, strokes and death from cardiovascular disease.
Perkovic said the results were impressive. “The substantial benefit on kidney failure despite limited effects on blood glucose suggest that these drugs work in a number of different ways beyond their effects on blood sugar. This is an area of intense ongoing research,” he added.