Victoza on the Rise: Paula Deen Promotes Type 2 Diabetes Drug

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Victoza (liraglutide) is by far Novo Nordisk’s fastest growing diabetes drug with a reported 185% growth in the first nine months of 2011. Introduced in Europe during the last quarter of 2009 and during the first quarter of 2010 in the US, Victoza quickly gained considerable market share with over 400 million dollars in sales in 2010 and over 670 million dollars in sales during the first nine months of 2011.

Paula DeenIf those figures aren’t enough to impress you, Victoza’s future looks even brighter now with its new celebrity spokeswoman – Paula Deen. Deen, 64, is the star of Food Network’s Paula’s Best Dishes.  She’s famous for her Southern cooking, recipes rich in butter, sugar, and calories – all of the foods which can increase risk of type 2 diabetes. 

As it turns out, Paula Deen has been privately suffering from type 2 diabetes for the last three years.  Now she’s gone public with both her diabetes diagnosis and her treatment with Victoza in a Novo Nordisk initiative called Diabetes In A New Light.  On the Diabetes in a New Light website, Deen advocates making simple changes to improve health, like cooking lighter dishes and becoming more active.  “My hope is that you can see diabetes in a new light and that you’ll get the most out of each and every day,” she says.  

Bear in mind that Paula Deen is likely receiving a large fee from Novo Nordisk to smile about her treatment with Victoza, but many non-celebrity diabetics are very happy with the drug, too.  So are doctors. “Victoza has changed the way I treat patients,” said endocrinologist Mariela Glandt. 

Victoza is a GLP-1 agonist, which means it mimics the action of the body’s naturally-occurring hormone, glucagon-like peptide-1, or GLP-1.  GLP-1 is secreted by the  intestines in response to food and  increases insulin secretion from the beta cells in the pancreas.  It also decreases the secretion of the blood sugar-raising hormone glucagon.  Unfortunately, one can’t simply give the hormone GLP-1 to a patient because the body  breaks it down quickly and makes it inactive.  This is where a GLP-1 agonist like Victoza comes to play. 

Like many hormone treatments, GLP-1 agonists must be given as an injection.  They are very effective in bringing down blood sugar, they reduce HbA1c 1-1.5%, they lead to weight loss, they suppress appetite, and they do not often cause hypoglycemia.    They even have the added benefit of decreasing lipids and blood pressure.  Though they cause nausea, it is usually mild and transient.

For an endocrinologist,  a drug that accomplishes all of those things without terrible side effects opens up a new door. “Until recent years, if a patient with type 2 diabetes could not achieve good metabolic control with oral medications, my only option, other than encouraging lifestyle changes, was to add insulin to the treatment, Glandt said.  “And insulin does do the trick,” she continued.  “It will always bring blood sugar levels down, even if it takes a while to get the dose right.  But insulin causes weight gain, predisposes patients to hypoglycemia, which can be dangerous, and usually means the patient will have to check  blood sugar many times a day.”

For a doctor in a clinical situation, then, who is looking for the ideal diabetes medication, something that lowers blood sugar, doesn’t cause hypoglycemia, leads to weight loss, and improves blood pressure and cholesterol, Victoza offers an appealing treatment choice.  “If a patient doesn’t mind taking an injection, GLP-1 agonists  seem to be our best option right now when trying to avoid insulin therapy,” said Glandt.  

Despite all of Victoza’s promise, however, there are still concerns about its safety.  In rats, GLP-1 therapy has shown an increased risk of medullary thyroid cancer.  This seems not to be true in humans, but nonetheless, Victoza comes with a black box warning: “Because of the uncertain relevance of the rodent thyroid C-cell tumor findings to humans, prescribe Victoza only to patients for whom the potential benefits are considered to outweigh the potential risk.”

 “I tell my patients about the potential risks,” said Glandt.  They make an informed decision when they decide to start treatment with Victoza. A large majority of my patients are happy with it.  Even the patients who experience side effects like nausea and vomiting will stay on the drug because they’re so pleased with its benefits and those side effects are usually temporary.”

Still, Glandt emphasizes that Victoza is relatively new.  “We now have to wait and see how its effects translate into our real goal, which is to improve and save lives,” she said. 

If Paula Deen’s celebrity power has enough pull, she’ll be improving lives too, not because of Victoza, but because with her campaign, she’s increasing diabetes awareness.  That’s no small thing.  With estimates suggesting that by 2050 one-third of Americans adults will have diabetes, the disease needs all the attention it can get. 

Jessica Apple is co-founder and editor-in-chief of ASweetLife.  She writes the blog The Natural Diabetic.

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Comments (9)

  1. Joanna at

    Did you also know that Victoza one of the warning(s) is thyroid cancer.  

  2. Why is this drug so damn expensive.  My insurance company Humana will no cover it (over
    $500.00 per month
    I had to stop treatment

  3. nonamejane at

    Joanna, the drug does have a a warning for MTC, medullary Thyroid cancer.  Because its only for Medullary, its pretty much a no big deal warning….unless you are at risk for that type of thyroid cancer which accounts for only about 2-3% of thyroid cancer cases a year in the US.  The drug works…..really well and the risk are minimal unless of course your at risk for MTC which is really rare. 

  4. Robert at

    Shame on You Paula Deen, your bubbly personality promoted a brand that damages health, causing diabetes, high blood pressure, joint disorders, and more.
    All the while you keep the secret that you have Type 2 diabetes (triggered by poor diet) and take Victoza.
    You profited greatly from pushing your brand, making MILLION$$$.
    Now you sign on to promote Victoza, a drug that had 3/4 $$ Billion is $ales in 2011 and a drug that many have used and will use because of you.
    More money in your pocket.
    The only value you have in your fans is the money you can make off of them.

  5. Marie Cohen at

    I have had type 2 x 1 yr.  It’s been a hard long road.  I was not ready to share with anyone for sometime.  I finally reached out on-line in the blogsphere world and found an example that stood out to me.  Jill Knapp Idaho native lost 100 pounds after her type 2 diabetes.  Since she lost the weight and got her diabetes in control she started being an advocate and educator for others.  I felt so dang lucky to have fallen upon her journey.  If not for her letting her story our there I may not have gotten the grip.  Maybe Paula just needed time.   Maybe she just needed to wait until it was the right time for her and her family to share this with the world.
    go to get up and get moving dot net to see Jill’s journey 
    I think really down deep inside that Paula means well and will help many people in the months to come.

  6. Alysha at

    My doctors office called and said Victoza would no longer be available as it was banned by the FDA. What is the facts on this?

  7. Terry at

    Be wary of Victoza. I took for about 3 weeks and developed pancreatititis. this was the first time my Doctor had prescibred it, and I’m sure he’ll be wary in the future.
    I have since started Insulin and things seem to be working well. Not really knocking the product, every medication seems to have side effects with some, just doesn’t work for all.

  8. Terry at

    Sorry about the spelling

    pancreatitis

    prescribed

  9. kathy at

    victoza is a miracle drug.  i have had diabetes since my last childbirth, 21 yrs ago.  i was on two kinds of insulin, now i am off  insulin and lost 35 lbs in six months.  i eat proper foods and exercise, but until victoza and getting off insulin, no weight loss.

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