Kidney Disease Illustration

Semaglutide Cuts Kidney Failure and Death in Diabetes

We’ve been waiting for this. Back in October, headlines flashed the news that Novo Nordisk had stopped a big outcomes study of semaglutide and its effect on kidney failure and death. They stopped it because it had worked so well. Continuing to give a placebo to half the people in the study would have been unethical. Yesterday we got all the details with a peer-reviewed publication in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In this study, semaglutide cut the risk of kidney failure or death by 24%. This was a study of 3,533 persons with diabetes and chronic kidney disease, randomly assigned to receive either semaglutide 1 mg injections weekly or a placebo. Most of them – 88% – also had a BMI in the range of overweight or obesity.

Transformational Findings

One of the authors of this study, Katherine Tuttle, explains why she and her colleagues are ecstatic about these results:

“Those of us who really care about kidney patients spent our whole careers wanting something better. And this is as good as it gets.”

Until now, doctors have not had much to offer patients with diabetes and kidney disease to stop it from progressing to kidney failure and death. This is a transformational milestone.

“If I Can Get It”

These impressive results have just one sour note to go with them. It pops up in comments from nephrologist Melanie Hoenig of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. She was not directly involved in this study, but she told the New York Times:

“I think it’s a game changer. If I can get it for my patients.”

This is a travesty we’ve seen unfolding now for years. A life-saving medication is generating many billions of dollars in profits, and the company that has the patent on it cannot produce an adequate supply. A tight supply and high prices are working quite well for them.

But we keep hearing from patients that they are having to suffer the effects of stretching out their limited supply, feeling the effects wax and wane as their health suffers.

Surely it is possible to do a better job of meeting this need.

Click here for the study in NEJM, here, here, and here for further reporting on it.

Kidney Disease Illustration, image by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control / Wikimedia Commons

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May 25, 2024