Reading Time: 3 minutes

Canadian and German researchers are teaming up to identify new drug combinations to treat people with obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

The goal is to develop personalized prescriptions that are more effective than single drugs and that can potentially replace more invasive treatments such as bariatric surgery, especially for children.

Andrea Haqq

Andrea Haqq

Qiming Tan

Qiming Tan

“As a pediatric endocrinologist, I can tell you we’re seeing more and more Type 2 diabetes in kids and adolescents, and it seems to be a more aggressive form than adult-onset diabetes, so we do need better therapies to achieve even greater efficacy and degree of weight loss,” says Andrea Haqq, who is also a professor in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry and adjunct professor in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences.

The researchers recently published a paper that examines the potential of several drugs that control incretins. These metabolic hormones stimulate the body to produce insulin and use it effectively. They also suppress appetite to control blood sugars and reduce weight.

The researchers conclude that combining the drugs has several advantages, including higher effectiveness in at least some patients and fewer side effects.

“Our group is really focused on synergistic combinations of therapies for obesity and Type 2 diabetes, which are frequent comorbid conditions,” says Haqq.

Even a five percent weight loss is considered clinically meaningful, and patients in some of the combination drug trials are achieving 10 or 15 percent, says Haqq, who is a member of the Alberta Diabetes Institute and the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute.

Haqq’s laboratory is collaborating with that of Timo Müller, director of the Institute for Diabetes and Obesity at the Helmholtz Diabetes Center and a researcher with the German Center for Diabetes Research in Münich, Germany.

“Dr. Müller is a basic scientist focused on in vitro or animal models of disease, and I’m a clinician scientist who sees many patients with obesity and diabetes, and works with clinical trials,” Haqq says. “So this collaboration allows us to bridge translational medicine and offer a unique perspective on precision therapy.”

As part of the collaboration with the Müller team, first author Qiming Tan, a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, will study for a term in Germany and a German student will join Haqq’s lab at the U of A.

5 things every Canadian should know about obesity by Carolyn Shimmin
Successful obesity management requires realistic and sustainable treatment strategies
Rethinking type 2 diabetes by Jan Hux
It’s time to stop blaming individuals for poor eating choices, and move toward community action

Haqq and Tan recommend further research to identify why some individuals respond differently to the drugs. Some racial and ethnic groups bear a disproportionate burden of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, they say, so more participants from these groups are needed in trials. Further studies should also focus on how differences in biological sex affect drug efficacy and safety.

In addition to drug combinations, the researchers are looking for non-pharmacological solutions, such as how adding fibre to a person’s diet can slow weight gain and improve the effectiveness of existing diabetes medications.

The research was funded by the Alberta Diabetes Institute, the International Helmholtz Research School for Diabetes and the Weston Family Foundation. Haqq has been part of unrelated clinical trials for Rhythm Pharmaceuticals and Levo Therapeutics.

| By Gillian Rutherford

Gillian is a reporter with the University of Alberta’s Folio online magazine. The University of Alberta is a Troy Media Editorial Content Provider Partner.

The opinions expressed by our columnists and contributors are theirs alone and do not inherently or expressly reflect the views of our publication.

© Troy Media
Troy Media is an editorial content provider to media outlets and its own hosted community news outlets across Canada.