Last updated June 28, 2011
Besides insulin, there are two other injectable drugs used to treat diabetes.
Other Injectable Medications. Pramlintide (brand name Symlin) is a synthetic form of the hormone amylin, which is produced along with insulin by the beta cells in the pancreas. Amylin, insulin, and another hormone, glucagon, work in an interrelated fashion to maintain normal blood glucose levels.
Pramlintide injections taken with meals have been shown to modestly improve A1C levels without causing increased hypoglycemia or weight gain and even promote modest weight loss. The primary side effect is nausea, which tends to improve over time and as an individual patient determines his or her optimal dose.
Because of differences in chemistry, pramlintide cannot be combined in the same vial or syringe with insulin and must be injected separately. Pramlintide has been approved for people with type 1 diabetes who are not achieving their goal A1C levels and for people with type 2 diabetes who are using insulin and are not achieving their A1C goals.
Exenatide (brand name Byetta) is the first in a new class of drugs for the treatment of type 2 diabetes called incretin mimetics. Exenatide is a synthetic version of exendin-4, a naturally-occurring hormone that was first isolated from the saliva of the lizard known as a Gila monster.
Exenatide works to lower blood glucose levels primarily by increasing insulin secretion. Because it only has this effect in the presence of elevated blood glucose levels, it does not tend to increase the risk of hypoglycemia on its own, although hypoglycemia can occur if taken in conjunction with a sulfonylurea. The primary side effect is nausea, which tends to improve over time.
Like pramlintide, exenatide is injected with meals and, as with pramlintide, patients using exenatide have generally experienced modest weight loss as well as improved glycemic control. Exenatide has been approved for use by people with type 2 diabetes who have not achieved their target A1C levels using metformin, a sulfonylurea, or a combination of metformin and a sulfonylurea.