What is inhaled insulin?
Inhaled insulin -brand name AFREZZA- is a quick-acting, first-in-class drug that will hopefully eliminate the need for needles as a means of delivering insulin. Similar to a nebulizer for asthma, this product is a combo consisting of a small and discreet inhaler that is loaded with cartridges that include a single dose of insulin each. The Federal Drug Administration has ordered studies and trials to look at long-term cancer, heart and infection risks, and to establish the safety for use in children, in addition to the drug’s manufacturer -MannKind Corporation- extensive and ongoing clinical program involving over 6,500 participants.
The needle and the damage undone
While any potential adverse effects -which all drugs have- will be determined in due time, the benefits have been clear from the get-go. The advantages of inhaled insulin go well beyond offering an alternative method of administration for those diabetics who also happen to suffer from needle phobia, though that would be undoubtedly and rightfully so a major selling point. There is no denying that fear of needles has a negative influence on patient compliance, not to mention the social stigma that may accompany the act of injecting insulin in public. Case in point, Poison’s lead singer was mistakenly thought to be pushing up heroin when in fact he was injecting the insulin he needs for his type 1 diabetes.
Unfortunately, taking insulin is not something that can be safely left for later when no one is watching; any type of delay could take a dangerous and even deadly toll on the patient. Regardless of the fact that diabetics should not be shamed into putting off taking the medication, a product like AFREZZA could provide further perks time-wise than needles. Inhaled insulin is absorbed and broken down faster and more effectively by the body, achieving peak levels 12-15 minutes after administration. This not only emulates the mealtime release of insulin in healthy individuals, but it also helps patients achieve that ever-elusive balance between hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia; that is, too high or two low blood sugar levels. Both of those complications bring a number of unwanted ramifications, including heart disease, kidney disease and amputations, poor quality of life, hospitalizations and even death.
As a result, users can simply take AFREZZA as they start a meal without wondering whether they took it too early or too late. Moreover, this product could become a more versatile alternative when it comes to delayed meals, meals with more carbohydrates than usual, prolonged meals, snacks, exercise, and myriad more daily activities that can affect glucose levels for better or worse. All of the preceding is not to imply that inhaled insulin will or even should take the place of other insulin-delivery options. Even though most type 1 and many type 2 diabetics will surely be on board, the fact is that Afrezza is not a substitute for long-acting (basal) insulin for those who require it. Furthermore, it is not recommended for people with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or who smoke.
Nonetheless, when it comes to diabetes care the more alternatives available the better. Effective diabetes management varies from patient to patient; some will definitely do a great deal better with inhaled insulin, but if needles are what work for you, then by all means that’s what you should stick to -pun intended. There is no word yet on when AFREZZA might be ready for sale or how much it might cost though MannKind says that the price will probably be similar to that of current insulin pens. Still, the fact that the drug was given the FDA nod on June 27 spells nothing but good news for diabetics everywhere.