Diabetes drug could help millions with heart and circulatory disease

4 June 2018        

Category: Research

New research has found that metformin – a cheap drug routinely used for the treatment of type 2 diabetes – could help millions of people living with heart and circulatory disease in the UK.

a bottle of metformin pills  

Two studies involving the drug, led by Dr Ify Mordi and colleagues at the University of Dundee, at the University of Dundee and presented today at the British Cardiovascular Society (BCS) Conference in Manchester, have provided promising results for patients with high blood pressure-induced heart damage and a condition called aortic stenosis, which causes heart failure.

The BHF-funded MET-REMODEL trial, found that metformin could reverse harmful thickening of the left ventricle - the heart's main pumping chamber. It also helped to bring down high blood pressure and reduce body weight in patients who had a heart attack.

Treating coronary heart disease patients

The study involved treating people with coronary heart disease with metformin or placebo over a period of 12 months to see how the drug affected the heart and circulatory system. The dangerous thickening of the left ventricle was reduced by twice as much in those taking metformin compared to the placebo. Patients who took metformin also had reduced blood pressure and lost an average of 3kg, compared to no weight loss in the placebo group.

Thickening of the heart’s main pumping chamber, or left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH), is a serious risk factor for heart attack and heart failure. It is often silent and so most people don’t know they have it until they have a heart attack or stroke. Major causes of LVH are high blood pressure, inflammation and insulin resistance, which are also thought to be key drivers of coronary heart disease.

Diabetes and aortic stenosis

In another study, funded by Scotland’s Chief Scientist Office (CSO), the researchers looked at the records of diabetic patients with a condition called aortic stenosis (AS). In people with AS, the main artery which supplies blood to the body is narrowed. It affects around 40% people over the age of 60 in the UK and can lead to LVH and subsequently heart failure.

The team found that diabetic patients with AS who were treated with metformin were less likely to die from heart attack, stroke or heart failure than those on other diabetes treatment.

Using a variety of research approaches, including big data and genomics, the researchers have identified some of the mechanisms through which metformin might be exerting its beneficial effects. They now believe the drug is helping AS and LVH patients by tackling insulin resistance and inflammation, which then leads to a reduction in the size of the left ventricle.

Repurposing drugs for other diseases 

Repurposing of cheap and readily available drugs for use in other diseases is an important route to explore. On average it costs £2 billion and can take up to 12 years to develop a new drug from discovery to approval for use in people. The success rate is low (<5%), and new drugs come at a significant cost to the health service. Because of this, repurposing of drugs for the treatment of heart and circulatory disease could potentially save the NHS billions of pounds every year.

Speaking about the potential of repurposing Metformin for heart disease, our Associate Medical Director, Professor Jeremy Pearson, said: “These studies provide real hope that metformin might help to reduce deaths from heart and circulatory diseases, which currently claim thousands of lives every year. Repurposing of drugs like metformin is a great example of how scientists can harness the power of medications which have more than one target in the body."

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