The British Columbia Medical Beneficiary and Pharmaceutical Services Division has delisted all sitagliptin drugs, including Januvia and Janumet, from its Pharmacare Benefits Program and will adjust its coverage of all other diabetes drugs in the class by February 2015. The agencies gave no reason for this action but experts speculate that it may be because sitagliptin has been linked to serious pancreatic side effects.
Merck, maker of Januvia and Janumet, is fighting the action, saying the move limits therapeutic options for patients.
Januvia works by enhancing the body’s own ability to control blood sugar levels by increasing insulin production when blood sugar is high, especially after eating. It also helps reduce the amount of sugar made by the liver. Janumet is a combination of sitagliptin, the same active ingredient in Januvia, plus metformin, which is a member of the biguanide family of drugs that works to lower the amount of sugar made by the liver.
Recent studies have linked Januvia and Byetta (exenatide), another diabetes drug, to an increased risk of acute pancreatitis, a painful inflammation of the pancreas. This condition increases the risk for pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest forms of the disease.
Lawsuits are mounting against Merck and AstraZeneca, maker of Byetta, by users of the drugs or their survivors who claim the drug makers knew their type 2 diabetes treatments could cause pancreas problems but failed to adequately warn consumers and the medical community.