Gila Monster Spit Could Be a Weight-Loss Hit

MONDAY, June 25 (HealthDay News) -- Overweight people with diabetes may not find the Gila monster quite so monstrous anymore, thanks to a new weight-loss drug that mimics a compound in the creature's spit.

The drug -- a synthetic form of a hormone called exendin-4 found in the lizard's saliva -- helped people with type 2 diabetes shed pounds, a three-year study found.

The Gila monster is a venomous lizard that lives in the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico.

This study of 217 patients found that three years of treatment with the drug exenatide (brand name Byetta) resulted in sustained, progressive weight loss averaging 11 pounds. Many of the patients also showed sustained reductions in blood sugar levels and in blood biomarkers that indicate liver injury.

The findings were to be presented Monday at the annual scientific sessions of the American Diabetes Association, in Chicago.

"Overweight and weight gain is an almost universal problem for people with diabetes," lead researcher Dr. John Buse, chief of endocrinology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement. Buse is also the ADA's president-elect for medicine and science and will become president in September.

The study was funded by two drug companies -- Amylin Pharmaceuticals and Eli Lilly and Company -- collaborating on the development and commercialization of exenatide. Many of the researchers involved with this study work for Amylin or Eli Lilly.

Exenatide was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in April 2005 for treatment of type 2 diabetes patients who are unable to get their blood sugar under control with one or both of two other drugs, metformin and sulfonylurea.

More information

There's more on diabetes at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCE: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, news release, June 25, 2007

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