New Drug Shows Promise for Treatment of Diabetes, UAB Researcher Says

Dr. Anath Shalev. Source: UAB

After 30 years of research and the screening of 300,000 compounds, a new drug has shown promise in mice and larger animals to control blood glucose in Types I and II of diabetes, UAB announced Thursday.

“Diabetes is a serious disease,” said Dr. Anath Shalev, director of UAB’s Comprehensive Diabetes Center. A Center for Disease Control report this year found 34.2 million Americans, or 1 in 10, have diabetes.

“It is a major public health problem worldwide, with the South particularly hard hit over the years,” Shalev said.

“In fact, the prevalence of diabetes in adults in Alabama is over 15%, which is really huge,” she added.

Alabama has the third-highest prevalence of diabetes in the United States, and it was the seventh-leading cause of death in 2013.

High blood sugar over time can lead to a number of health risks, including problems with the heart, eyes and kidneys, and now it is an issue in the treatment of COVID-19, Shalev said. Diabetes impacts the recovery of patients with COVID.

The researchers found a small molecule that prompts the glucagon hormone in the liver to release glucose when blood sugar is too low, while the hormone insulin prompts cells to take up glucose from the blood stream when sugar levels are too high.

In mouse models of Type 1 and 2 diabetes, where blood sugar levels are too high, the experimental drug normalized blood glucose without causing hypoglycemia, a term for very low blood sugar levels. Nor did the drug cause toxic side effects.

The drug also improved the severe fat deposits in livers of obese diabetic mice, suggesting a beneficial use for people who have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

The drug, SRI-377330, can be taken in pill form, “and it has a good safety profile,” Shalev said.

The next phase of the research, before it can be tested on humans, will be paperwork for regulatory agencies, Shalev said.