A drug used successfully to treat type 2 diabetes can also be effective to treat heart failure, researchers at Glasgow University have said.
They described the clinical implications of their findings as “potentially huge.”
The drug Dapagliflozin controls blood sugar levels, helps promote weight loss and reduces blood pressure.
The team said it could also be used to treat pre-existing heart failure, even in patients without type 2 diabetes.
Dapagliflozin has already been proved to reduce the risk of developing heart failure in patients with the condition.
The Glasgow study analysed whether it could also be used to treat patients with type 2 diabetes in whom heart failure had already developed, and also to treat heart failure in patients without type 2 diabetes.
It concluded that the drug also reduced death rates and hospital stays, and improved the health-related quality of life in patients whether they had type 2 diabetes or not.
“The most important finding of all is the benefit in patients without diabetes,” Prof John McMurray said. “This shows Dapagliflozin is truly a treatment for heart failure and not just a drug for diabetes.
“The clinical implications are potentially huge – few drugs achieve these results in heart failure and Dapagliflozin does even when added to excellent standard therapy.”
Dapagliflozin is one of a new class of diabetes drugs called Sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 (SGLT-2) inhibitors.
Previous studies have shown they help control blood sugar levels, but can also promote weight loss, reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of death.
Heart failure occurs when the heart can no longer pump blood around the body as well as it should.
The prevalence of heart failure in people with type 2 diabetes is around double than in the general population without diabetes.
What is type 2 diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic condition associated with obesity and family history and is more likely to be diagnosed in older people. It’s more common than type 1 diabetes.
It is caused by problems with controlling blood sugar levels – either because the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or if a body’s cells do not react to insulin as they should.
The condition is treated by medication or controlling a person’s diet.
Vanessa Smith, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said the study’s findings were welcome news because heart failure was a devastating, incurable illness which carried a prognosis worse than many cancers, despite advances in treatment.
She said: “In Scotland, around 46,000 people have been diagnosed with the condition by their GP, however, there could be thousands more living with heart failure because it’s often first diagnosed in hospital.
“This remarkable study shows that a drug originally developed to treat diabetes improves survival for people with heart failure – regardless of whether they have diabetes or not.”
Type 2 diabetes has been associated with shorter life expectancy across Scotland in all levels of society, according to a study at Edinburgh University in 2017.
Having the condition lowered life expectancy by five and a half years for some people.
About 5% of people in Scotland have diabetes, with type 2 making up 90% of cases.
Scottish government figures suggest that every year 17,000 people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in Scotland, with an estimated 500,000 people in Scotland at high risk of developing the condition.
The Glasgow researchers presented their conclusions at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) in Barcelona.
The study, carried out at the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences at Glasgow University, was simultaneously published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).