Medicine Used To Treat Type 2 Diabetes Might Heal Blinding IIH Headaches: Study

A new experiment has discovered that patients suffering from `blinding` headaches known as Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH) might be treated with an injectable peptide used to treat type 2 diabetes. The study, published in the journal Brain, today reports on a phase two trial of a drug called exenatide, a GLP-1 receptor agonist, as a potential treatment for IIH. The IIH Pressure Trial led by a team of neurologists from the University of Birmingham and University Hospitals Birmingham found that for the seven patients who received regular injections of the drug, currently approved for use in Type 2 Diabetes, led to a drop in pressure in the brain during both short (2.5 hrs and 24 hrs) and long term (12 weeks) measurements. 

The trial also saw significant reductions in the number of headaches across the 12 weeks that participants took part, with an average of 7.7 fewer days per month of headaches compared to the baseline, compared to only 1.5 fewer days in the placebo arm. 

Alex Sinclair is a Professor of Neurology at the Institute of Metabolism and Systems Research at the University of Birmingham, an Honorary Consultant Neurologist at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, and a Principal Investigator of the study. Professor Alex Sinclair said: “This is a major trial for the rare and debilitating condition IIH that can lead to people, usually women, going blind and suffering disabling daily headaches. There are no current licensed drugs to treat IIH and hence this result is a major step forward for IIH patients.”

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“We are delighted to see that the phase two trial resulted in our treatment group having lower brain pressure both immediately and after 12 weeks and nearly 8 fewer headache days across the 12-week period, and that all the women were able to continue the treatment throughout with few adverse effects. We now hope to see a much larger trial of exenatide to literally ease the pressure for the many people around the world suffering with IIH.” 

What Is IIH treatment?

Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension (IIH) is a debilitating condition that raises the pressure in the brain and can lead to chronic headaches and even permanent sight loss. The illness, which often leaves patients with a reduced quality of life, predominantly affects women aged 25 to 36 and weight gain is a major risk factor for developing IIH and relapses of the disease. 

Once regarded as rare, the incidence of IIH is now rising dramatically in line with the global rise in obesity and there has been a 350 percent rise in incidence in the last 10 years. Currently, there are no licensed drug options, and existing medications used off-label are complicated by troublesome side effects.

A key finding was the rapid action of the drug, with results indicating that brain pressure was significantly reduced within two and a half hours of taking the medication. This rapid onset of action is vital in a condition that can cause rapid blindness if left untreated. 

Dr James Mitchell, Lecturer in Neurology at the University of Birmingham and first author of the paper said: “The results of this clinical trial are shot in the arm for finding clinical treatments for IIH. While we need to do further trials before such a treatment could be available for patients in the future, we are encouraged by the significant results from this trial that made a real difference for those in the treatment arm and this treatment may prove relevant for other conditions resulting in raised brain pressure.” 

In this study, the drug was given as a twice-daily injection into the subcutaneous tissue. To reduce the need for frequent injections in the future a once-weekly subcutaneous injection called Presendin will be trialled though the University of Birmingham Start-up company, Invex Therapeutics.

Shelly Williamson, the Chair of patient charity IIH UK said: “This is such exciting progress. New drug options are vitally important for IIH and this trial brings hope to the millions of patients living with the condition. We very much look forward to the next steps and seeing the drug tested in two large Phase 3 clinical trials.” 

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