Accessibility links

Breaking News

U.S., European Drug Officials Approve Inhaled Insulin

I’m Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Health Report.

A form of insulin for people with diabetes to take by mouth is expected to be sold within a few months. The new medicine is called Exubera. The United States Food and Drug Administration and the European Commission both recently approved it for adults.

It could make life easier for many diabetics who require daily injections of insulin to control their blood sugar levels. But it will not replace all insulin injections. And it is not for everyone.

People who smoke or have stopped smoking for less than six months should not take Exubera. Some patients with lung disease should not take it either.

Three drug companies -- Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis and Nektar Therapeutics -- developed the inhaled insulin. Pfizer recently bought the rights to sell it worldwide.

Experts say about fifteen percent of diabetics who need insulin do not take it. The treatment can involve several injections each day.

Insulin is a hormone that the body uses to change food into energy. Failure to control blood sugar levels can lead to serious problems, including blindness and loss of blood flow to the feet. It can also lead to heart disease, stroke and kidney failure.

Insulin has been sold as a drug since the nineteen twenties. This is the first new way to take it. Exubera uses a powder breathed into the lungs through a mouthpiece.

Pfizer will study the long-term effects. It says some patients have reported a mild cough while using the inhaled insulin. People are advised to have their lungs examined before using Exubera, and at least once a year after that.

Many people do not know they have diabetes. There are two forms. Most diabetics have the Type Two form. Their body does not make enough insulin or cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. It is common in people who are overweight and not active.

Most Type Two diabetics do not take insulin. Their medicines can be taken by mouth. Diet, exercise and weight control are also important.

Type One diabetes often begins in childhood. With this type the body is unable to produce insulin.

Officials say diabetics with either type could use inhaled insulin, either before or after a meal. But Type One diabetics and some with Type Two would still need a longer-lasting injection at least once a day.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Cynthia Kirk. Internet users can read and listen to our reports at I’m Steve Ember.