A drug based on a lizard hormone could help people with type 2 diabetes, researchers suggest.
The venemous Gila monster lizard
Exenatide mimics the action of a hormone found in the venomous Gila monster lizard.
Research presented to the European Association for the Study of Diabetes in Munich showed the drug boosts cells responsible for insulin production.
Diabetes experts said the pharmaceutical company research was "very exciting".
THE GILA MONSTER LIZARD
It is one of the two species of venomous lizards in the world
It is large and heavy-bodied, with a huge head, small eyes and a short, swollen tail
The lizard is covered in black, pink, orange, or yellow scales
They flick out their forked tongue, as they crawl to help them pick up scents
Around 1.4m people in the UK are known to have diabetes and a further one million are estimated to have it but are not aware of it.
In addition, nearly two thirds of all men in this country and half of all women are overweight or obese, a key risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
Failure of the beta cells in the pancreas is one of major causes of type 2 diabetes, which accounts for approximately 85% of all diabetes cases in developed countries.
In the early 1990s, diabetes researchers discovered that a hormone in the lizard behaved in a similar way to a digestive hormone found in humans called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), which helps maintain a steady supply of glucose in the bloodstream.
GLP-1 stimulates the body to produce insulin in response to rising levels of blood glucose, inhibits the release of glucose from the liver after meals, delays nutrient absorption and promotes satiety and reduced appetite, all important metabolic mechanisms that are disrupted when type 2 diabetes develops.
The Gila version - exendin-4 - was found to stay in the body for a lot longer.
Based on the findings, Amylin Pharmaceuticals and Eli Lilly and Company developed their synthetic version of exendin-4.
The companies' latest results show Exenatide improves the beta cell's ability to release insulin following an influx of glucose into the bloodstream.
Three studies carried out by the researchers on around 1,400 patients showed the drug lowered average blood sugar levels and average weight.
Dr Anthony Barnett, professor of medicine and honorary consultant physician at the University of Birmingham who was speaking on behalf of Eli Lily, said: "These results demonstrate Exenatide's potential to help patients reduce and maintain their blood sugar levels at a healthy range.
"In addition, patients also experienced reductions in body weight and showed evidence of improved beta cell function.
"This combination could be a very important and unique contribution to type 2 diabetes treatment."
Simon O'Neill, Director of Care and Policy at Diabetes UK, said: "These results are exciting.
"Managing blood glucose levels, along with blood pressure levels, is central to reducing the risk of heart attacks, blindness, strokes, kidney disease and amputations in people with Type 2 diabetes.
"Any new drug which is safe and effective is to be welcomed. New treatments provide more options to ensure the most effective treatment for any individual."