According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2017-2018 National Health Survey, 67 per cent of Australian adults are overweight or obese, showing an increase from 63.4 per cent since 2014-15. With scientists predicting that the trend is only going to continue, with some 18 million Australians overweight or obese by 2030, it’s clear that the disease is a significant one with complex factors. No longer is it enough to cite obesity as a result of inactivity and poor diet, instead it must be viewed as a health condition influenced by social, environmental and economic factors, with consequences that can increase the risk of chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
All of this makes the announcement that scientists might soon be able to repurpose commonly used medicines to help treat people suffering from obesity and diabetes an exciting prospect. While the medicines are yet to be outlined at the International Congress on Obesity in Melbourne, they include treatments for stomach ulcers and heart rhythm disorders that were identified using computer programs.
As Professor Murray Cairns of the University of Newcastle in NSW suggests, “New treatments with high activity and specificity are urgently needed to tackle a pandemic of chronic illness associated with type 2 diabetes and obesity. Our technology harnesses genetically informed precision medicine to identify and target new treatments for these complex disorders.”
As The Guardian reports, drugs chosen as potential obesity treatments include “baclofen, a muscle relaxant, and carfilzomib, a medicine used in chemotherapy. In the case of potential diabetes treatments, the researcher identified palbociclib, which is used to treat breast cancer, and cardiac glycosides, which are used to treat heart failure and heart rhythm disorders.”
Scientists were also able to identify drugs that could potentially treat both obesity and diabetes, including sucralfate which is used to treat stomach ulcers.
When it comes to illnesses like diabetes, researchers are finding greater merit in repurposing existing drugs. This is largely due to the fact that there is safety in these medicines, given that they’ve been studied for a long time during their pharmaceutical trials and no additional time or cost is needed to bring them to market. Older drugs are also seen to no longer be subjected to patent restrictions, making them cheaper for hospitals and doctors to administer.
William Reay, a colleague of Cairns, expressed: “We wanted to make an impact against these and other complex conditions through the discovery of drugs that target each individual’s genetically encoded biological risk.”
As rates of obesity and diabetes continue to increase across Australia (and the world at large), this development is an encouraging one in the world of science. “Diabetes and obesity are the major risk factors for dozens of chronic health disorders that contribute to astonishing levels of human morbidity and morality,” said Reay.