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EDITIONS
Thursday, 22 August, 2002, 10:40 GMT 11:40 UK
Hi-tech insulin 'better for diabetics'
Insulin jab
Many diabetics rely on insulin injections
The NHS is set to get approval to use more expensive drugs to reduce the risk of dangerous "hypo" attacks in diabetics.

On average, people with diabetes have one episode of "hypoglycaemia" a week.

Diabetics cannot produce enough of a hormone called insulin, which helps keeps blood sugar levels from getting too high.


The frequency and severity of 'hypos' can impact on a person's ability to work and lead a normal life

Simon O'Neill, Diabetes UK
However, in hypoglycaemia, the reverse happens, and blood sugar levels plummet.

This is perhaps because the patient has not eaten enough, or is exercising too heavily, while taking insulin which reduces blood sugar levels further.

Danger attack

While most attacks are mild - and can be corrected simply by taking a sugary drink, in some cases it can lead, in severe instances, to fits, unconsciousness, and even coma or death.

Lantus is a new type of insulin, which works in a slow-release fashion, so that the level of the hormone in the body is steadier throughout the day.

Lantus only needs to be taken once a day, say its makers.

But until now, it has not been available on the NHS, meaning that patients must pay hundreds of pounds a year if they want it.

However, interim guidance from the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE), issued on Thursday, suggests that certain diabetics should be prescribed the drug.

Professor Anthony Barrett, from Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, welcomed the NICE decision: "It is only when you talk to patients that you really understand how much distress hypoglycaemia can cause.

"It is a severe problem, particularly as it commonly occurs overnight and means sufferers have to rely on family members to help them cope with an attack."

One in five

Study results suggest that Lantus reduces the number of hypoglycaemic attacks by 20% compared with conventional insulin.

It is more expensive - on average costing between 200 and 380 per patient per year.

However, NICE says that the cost to the NHS of dealing with "hypos" - many of which require hospitalisation - justify the extra cost.

They have recommended that all people with type I diabetes should get it, and many with type II diabetes.

Type I diabetics are those who have developed the disease at a young age - and are completely dependent on regular insulin injections

Type II diabetes normally develops later in life, when the body's ability to control blood sugar weakens, and extra insulin may be needed.

NICE says that type II diabetics who are judged to have "significant" problems with hypoglycaemia, or who require higher levels of daily insulin, should get the new drug.

Simon O'Neill, from Diabetes UK, said: "The frequency and severity of 'hypos' can impact on a person's ability to work and lead a normal life.

"Diabetes UK welcomes any advances which offer people with diabetes effective alternative options for treatment of their condition."

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Matthew Hill
"The new drug....can reduce fits by up to 20 per cent"
See also:

09 Aug 02 | 4x4 Reports
25 Jul 02 | Americas
19 Jul 02 | Health
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