November is American Diabetes Awareness Month, which recognizes the challenges faced by one in every 11 Americans who struggle with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. While the economic toll of the disease remains high, our ability to understand and treat diabetes has progressed at a stunning rate over the past few decades.
Experts refer to the widespread impact of diabetes in the United States as an “epidemic” because each year, 1.4 million Americans will receive a diabetes diagnosis. Currently, one in every 11 Americans struggle with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes, and the disease is the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States. Collectively, the cost of diagnosed diabetes is $245 billion.
The term “diabetes” represents a chronic condition in which the body is either unable to make or use insulin, resulting in too much glucose (sugar) in the blood. Untreated diabetes can lead to serious health complications, such as heart and vascular disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, blindness and infections. Normally, the pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that is used by the body’s cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream, keeping blood sugar at a healthy level. Insulin is sometimes described as a key that is used to unlock the door to cells, allowing glucose to enter. When an individual has diabetes, the body either does not make enough insulin, makes none at all, or does not use it properly, and therefore, glucose levels are not effectively regulated.
America’s biopharmaceutical researchers are persistent in their efforts to develop novel therapies to treat this complex and challenging illness and to improve the quality of life for patients. While insulin was discovered in the 1920s, it took about sixty years for it to be safely and reliably manufactured. Since then, the progress has not stopped and the pace of discovery has intensified. According to a 2016 report, there are approximately 170 medicines in development for type 1 and type 2 diabetes and diabetes-related conditions, such as chronic kidney disease and diabetic neuropathy. At the time the report was published, all of these medicines were in clinical trials or awaiting review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
For diabetes patients like Angel, the need for frequent monitoring of blood sugar levels and numerous types of medications make the disease challenging to manage. Twenty years ago, there were far fewer insulin options available, requiring constant and diligent monitoring, multiple daily injections and usually a coordination of multiple oral medicines alongside a patient’s carefully planned daily routine to avoid serious disease complications.
Today, a new wave of treatments is offering patients better or more sustained glycemic control, reduced pill burden, more convenient delivery mechanisms, less frequent injections and simplified daily routines. Careful monitoring and treatment are still needed, but current medicines in development offer a promising future for diabetes patients. These advancements can lead to better medication adherence, with the goal of reducing complications and unnecessary and expensive hospitalizations. One study estimates improved adherence could avoid nearly 350,000 hospitalizations and nearly 700,000 emergency room visits each year in the United States, leading to reduced medical spending as great as $5,000 per patient annually. Additionally, some medicines in the pipeline may also address diabetes-related complications that affect the kidneys, blood vessels and eyes.
Together, these advancements are providing renewed hope to diabetes patients, improving quality of life for millions of Americans and potentially reducing health care costs. Welcome to the new era of medicine.
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