Outrage Over Dapagliflozin Withdrawal for Type 1 Diabetes in EU

Liam Davenport

December 15, 2021

In a shocking, yet low-key, announcement, the sodium-glucose transporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitor dapagliflozin (Forxiga, AstraZeneca) has been withdrawn from the market in all EU countries for the indication of type 1 diabetes.

This includes withdrawal in the UK, which was part of the EU when dapagliflozin was approved for type 1 diabetes in 2019, but following Brexit, is no longer.

AstraZeneca said the decision is not motivated by safety concerns, but points nevertheless to an increased risk of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) associated with SGLT2 inhibitors in those with type 1 diabetes, which it said might cause "confusion" among physicians using the drug to treat numerous other indications for which this agent is now approved.

DKA is a potentially dangerous side effect resulting from acid build-up in the blood and is normally accompanied by very high glucose levels. DKA is flagged as a potential side effect in type 2 diabetes but is more common in those with type 1 diabetes. It can also occur as "euglycemic" DKA, which is ketosis but with relatively normal glucose levels (and therefore harder for patients to detect). Euglycemic DKA is thought to be more of a risk in those with type 1 diabetes than in those with type 2 diabetes.

One charity believes concerns around safety are the underlying factor for the withdrawal of dapagliflozin for type 1 diabetes in Europe, suggesting that AstraZeneca might not want to risk income from more lucrative indications — such as type 2 diabetes with much larger patient populations — because of potential concerns from doctors, who may be deterred from prescribing the drug due to concerns about DKA.

JDRF International, a leading global type 1 diabetes charity, called on AstraZeneca in a statement "to explain to people affected by type 1 diabetes why the drug has been withdrawn."

It added that dapagliflozin is the "only other drug besides insulin" to be licensed in Europe for the treatment of type 1 diabetes and represents a "major advancement since the discovery of insulin 100 years ago."

Karen Addington, UK Chief Executive of JDRF, said it is "appalling" that the drug has been withdrawn, as "many people with type 1 are finding it an effective and useful tool to help manage their glucose levels."

SGLT2 Inhibitors Never Approved for Type 1 Diabetes in US

Dapagliflozin and other drugs from the SGLT2 inhibitor class had already been approved for the treatment of type 2 diabetes for a number of years when dapagliflozin was approved in early 2019 for the treatment of adults with type 1 diabetes meeting certain criteria by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which at that time included the UK in its remit, based on data from the DEPICT series of phase 3 trials.

SGLT2 inhibitors have also recently shown benefit in other indications, such as heart failure and chronic kidney disease — even in the absence of diabetes — leaving some to label them a new class of wonder drugs.

Following the 2019 EU approval for type 1 diabetes, dapagliflozin was subsequently recommended for this use on the National Health Service (NHS) in England and Wales, and was accompanied by guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which has now had to be withdrawn.

Of note, dapagliflozin was never approved for use in type 1 diabetes in the United States (where it is known as Farxiga), with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) turning it down in July 2019.

An advisory panel for the FDA also later turned down another SGLT2 inhibitor for type 1 diabetes, empagliflozin (Jardiance, Boehringer Ingelheim) in November 2019, as reported by Medscape Medical News.

Discontinuation "Not Due to Safety Concerns," Says AZ

The announcement to discontinue dapagliflozin for the indication of type 1 diabetes in certain adults just two and a half years after its approval in the EU comes as a big surprise, especially as it was made with little fanfare, just last month.

In the UK, AstraZeneca sent a letter to healthcare professionals on November 2 stating that, from October 25, dapagliflozin 5 mg was "no longer authorized" for the treatment of type 1 diabetes and "should no longer be used" in this patient population.

However, it underlined that other indications for dapagliflozin 5 mg and 10 mg were "not affected by this licensing change," and it remains available for adults with type 2 diabetes, as well as for the management of symptomatic chronic heart feature with reduced ejection fraction (HFrEF) and chronic kidney disease (CKD).

In the letter, sent by Tom Keith-Roach, country president of AstraZeneca UK, the company asserts that the removal of the type 1 diabetes indication from dapagliflozin is "not due to any safety concern" with the drug "in any indication, including type 1 diabetes."

It nevertheless goes on to highlight that DKA is a known common side effect of dapagliflozin in type 1 diabetes and, following the announcement, "additional risk minimization measures...will no longer be available."

In a separate statement, AstraZeneca said that the decision to remove the indication was made "voluntarily" and had been "agreed" with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in Great Britain and the equivalent body in Northern Ireland.

"It follows discussions regarding product information changes needed post-approval for dapagliflozin 5 mg specific to type 1 diabetes," the company said, "which might cause confusion" among physicians treating patients with type 2 diabetes, chronic heart feature with reduced ejection fraction, or CKD.

AstraZeneca told Medscape Medical News similar communications about the withdrawal were issued to healthcare agencies and healthcare professionals in all countries of the EU.

"Appalling, Devastating, Disappointing" for Patients

The announcement has been met with disappointment in some quarters and outrage in others, and questions have been raised as to the explanation given by AstraZeneca for the drug's withdrawal.

"Although only a small number of people with type 1 diabetes have been using dapagliflozin, we know that those who have been using it will have been benefitting from tighter control of their condition," Simon O'Neill, director of health intelligence and professional liaison at Diabetes UK, told Medscape Medical News.

"It's disappointing that these people will now need to go back to the drawing board and will have to work with their clinical team to find other ways of better managing their condition."

O'Neill said it was "disappointing that AstraZeneca and the MHRA were unable to find a workable solution to allow people living with type 1 diabetes to continue using the drug safely without leading to confusion for clinicians or people living with type 2 diabetes, who also use it."

Sanjoy Dutta, JDRF International vice president of research, added that the news is "devastating."

"The impending negative impact of removing a drug like dapagliflozin from any market can be detrimental in the potential for other national medical ruling boards to have confidence in approving it for their citizens," he added.

"We stand with our type 1 diabetes communities across the globe in demanding an explanation to clarify this removal."

Why Not an Educational Campaign About DKA Risk?

Speaking to Medscape Medical News, Hilary Nathan, policy & communications director at JDRF International, explained that the charity has its theories as to why dapagliflozin has been withdrawn for type 1 diabetes.

What AstraZeneca is saying, "and what we don't agree with them on," is that the "black triangle" warning that has to be put onto the drug due to the increased risk of DKA in type 1 diabetes is "misunderstood by healthcare practitioners" outside of that specialty and that "by having that black triangle, it will inhibit take-up in those other markets."

In other words, "there will be less desire to prescribe it," ventured Nathan.

She continued: "For us, we feel that if a medicine is deemed safe and efficacious, it should not be withdrawn because of other patient constituencies."

"We asked: 'Why can't you do an educational awareness campaign about the black triangle?' And the might of AstraZeneca said it would be too big a task."

Nathan was also surprised at how the drug could be withdrawn without any warning or real explanation.

"How is it possible that, when a drug is approved there are multiple stakeholders that are involved in putting forward views and experiences — both from the clinical and patient advocacy communities, as well as obviously the pharmaceutical community — yet [a drug] can be withdrawn by a...company that may well have conflicts of interest around commercial take-up."

She added: "I feel that there are potentially motives around the withdrawal that AstraZeneca are still not being clear about."

Perhaps a further clue as to the real motives behind the withdrawal can be found in an announcement, just last week, by the British MHRA.

"The decision by the marketing authorization holder to voluntarily withdraw the indication in type 1 diabetes followed commercial considerations due to a specific European-wide regulatory requirement for this authorization," it said.

"The decision was not driven by any new safety concerns, such as the already known increased risk of DKA in type 1 diabetes compared with type 2 diabetes."

Separately, a new in-depth investigation into when Johnson & Johnson, which markets another SGLT2 inhibitor, canagliflozin (Invokana), first knew that its agent was associated with DKA has revealed multiple discrepancies in staff accounts. Some claim the company knew as early as 2010 that canagliflozin — first approved for type 2 diabetes in the United States in 2013 — could increase the risk of DKA. It was not until May 2015 that the FDA first issued a warning about the potential risk of DKA associated with use of SGLT2 inhibitors, with the EMA following suit a month later. In December 2015, the FDA updated the labels for all SGLT2 inhibitors approved in the United States at that time — canagliflozin, empagliflozin, and dapagliflozin — to include the risks for ketoacidosis (and urinary tract infections).

Forxiga (dapagliflozin) is manufactured by AstraZeneca. No relevant financial relationships declared.

Forxiga (dapagliflozin) 5 mg should no longer be used for the treatment of Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus. 2021: AstraZeneca UK Limited, Luton.

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