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Lantus Studies Raise Cancer Worries

Jun 29, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

Lantus, the blockbuster diabetes drug made by Sanofi-Aventis, may increase the risk of  cancer in some patients.  The possible link, seen in some new European Lantus studies, prompted the European Association for the Study of Diabetes to call for more studies on the drug.

Lantus is an insulin analogue - an artificial form of insulin.  Lantus is an important drug for Aventis, with sales up 28% last year, to $3.43 million,  Reuters said.  

According to Reuters, it has been speculated in the past that some insulin analogues like Lantus could increase cancer risks.  That's because they bind to  insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) receptors, whereas traditional forms of insulin - known as human insulin - bind to insulin receptors. IGF-1 receptors influence cell proliferation, which could explain a cancer link.  

The Lantus cancer risk was seen in three of four retrospective studies involving a total of 301,136 insulin-treated patients in Germany, Sweden and Britain, Reuters said.  According to a Wall Street Journal report, the German study found that patients taking Lantus for an average of 18 months had a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer.  Those taking a higher dose of Lantus had a 31% higher risk.

The Swedish study found double the risk of breast cancer among Lantus patients, the Journal said.  

While the European Association for the Study of Diabetes called for more research on Lantus and cancer, it did not tell patients or doctors to stop using the drug. According to Reuters,  the Association also said that there is no evidence Lantus actually causes cancer; at worst it might promote growth of cancers that are already present but have yet to be diagnosed.

The American Diabetes Association also  warned against over-reaction to a set of research papers that it said were "conflicting and inconclusive", Reuters said.

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