Diabetes Drugs

Diabetes drugs can take up to a decade before they're released
Diabetes drugs can take up to a decade before they're released

There are a number of different types of diabetes drugs - with some having similar ways of acting. Drugs which act similarly to each other are put into the same class of drugs.

Below is a list of the most common diabetes drug classes, an A-Z of all diabetes drugs, how they work, who they are for and which medications fall into these drug classes.

Jump to the treatment you’re interested in:

Insulin

Insulin is a hormone which helps to regulate blood sugar. A number of different types of insulin are available as medication, with some insulins acting for as long as a day and others acting for only a few hours.

However, insulin is prescribed for people with type 1 diabetes and for people with type 2 diabetes who have not responded so well on oral medication (tablets).

Biguanides / Metformin

The only available diabetes medication in the biguanides class of drugs is metformin.

Biguanides prevent the liver from producing glucose and helps to improve the body’s sensitivity towards insulin. Metformin is commonly used as a first line treatment for type 2 diabetes and may occasionally be prescribed, in combination with insulin, for people with type 1 diabetes.

Sulphonylureas

Sulphonylureas are the class of antidiabetic drug for type 2 diabetes that tends to include those drugs which end in ‘ide’.

The following drugs are all in the sulphonylureas class (branded names in brackets):

  • Glibenclamide –also known as Glyburide (Daonil)
  • Glipizide (Glucotrol)
  • Gliquidone (Glurenorm)
  • Glyclopyramide (Deamelin-S)
  • Glimepiride (Amaryl)
  • Gliclazide (Diamicron)

Sulphonylureas work by increasing the amount of insulin the pancreas produces and increasing the working effectiveness of insulin. The mode of action of sulphonylureas means that hypoglycemia and weight gain can be relatively common side effects.

Meglitinides / Prandial glucose regulator / Glinides

The glinides are a class of drug which have a similar response as sulphonylureas but act for a shorter time. Meglitinides are prescribed to be taken by people with type 2 diabetes within half an hour before eating. As the drugs act for a shorter period than sulphonylureas, the side effects of hypoglycemia and weight gain have a smaller likelihood.

Examples of prandial glucose regulators are (brand names in brackets):

  • Repaglinide (Prandin)
  • Nateglinide (Starlix)

Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors

Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors, such as acarbose (marketed as Precose or Glucobay) or miglitol (branded as Glyset) are drugs for type 2 diabetes which slow down the digestion of carbohydrates in the small intestine and therefore can help to reduce after meal blood sugar levels.

Thiazolidinedione / Glitazones

Thiazolidinediones, also known as glitazones, are a medication for type 2 diabetes which help to improve insulin sensitivity and have been found to help decrease triglyceride levels.

However, these have recently been in public spotlight as questions over their long term safety.

In September 2010, the most popularly prescribed drug in this class rosiglitazone (Avandia) was banned for use by the European medicines Agency over heart attack concerns.

Pioglitazone (Actos) has also made the news in connection with instances of bladder cancer, however, the danger has not been deemed sufficient to need to ban the drug in the UK.

DPP-4 inhibitors / Gliptins

DPP-4 inhibitors, also known as gliptins, are a class of drug which help to stimulate the production of insulin and reduce the production of glucagon, particularly during digestion.

DPP-4 inhibitors are usually prescribed for people with type 2 diabetes who have not responded well to drugs such as metformin and sulphonylureas.

This drug class includes following medications (trade names in brackets):

Incretin mimetics / GLP-1 analogues

Incretin mimetics, also known as GLP-1 analogues, are an injectable treatment for type 2 diabetes.
Incretin mimetics look to mimic the effect of a group of hormones called incretins which increase the production of insulin and decrease the release of glucagon in a relatively similar way DPP-4 inhibitors.

This is not a coincidence as the way DPP-4 inhibitors work is to prevent the protein dipeptidyl peptidase-4 from destroying the incretin hormones.

GLP-1 analogues have been found to be particularly effective in helping to improve blood glucose levels and helping with weight loss.

The following GLP-1 analogues are prescribed in the UK (branded names in brackets):

Amylin analogues

Amylin is a hormone produced by the pancreas and released at the same time as insulin, but in much smaller quantities (about 1% compared with insulin). Amylin helps to suppress glucagon release and therefore reduce post meal blood glucose levels.

Pramlintide acetate (marketed as Symlin) is available in the US as an injectable drug for the treatment of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

The use of amylin with insulin can carry an increased chance of hypoglycemia.

A-Z of diabetes drugs

Explore the 50+ diabetes drugs available in the UK and worldwide (including those discontinued in the UK):

A to Z of diabetes medication
Brand
Name
Generic
Name
Drug
Form
For
Treating
Drug
Class
Made
By
Drug
Description
Actos Pioglitazone  Tablet Type 2 Thiazolidinediones (Glitazones) Takeda Antidiabetic drug used to improve glyemic control in adults with type 2 diabetes by reducing insulin resistance.
Actrapid Insulin
soluble
human
Injection
solution
Type 1
Type 2
Insulin Novo
Nordisk
Ltd
Fast-acting medication used as a substitute for the body's insulin in people with diabetes.
Amaryl Glimepiride Tablet Type 2 Sulphonylureas Sanofi-Aventis Tablet diabetes medication used to help control blood sugar levels by boosting the body's insulin sensitivity.
Apidra Insulin
Glulisine
Injection
solution
Type 1
Type 2
Insulin Sanofi-Aventis  Fast acting, mealtime insulin used to help maintain blood sugar control for adults with type 2 diabetes or adults and children (4 years and older) with type 1 diabetes.
Byetta Exenatide Injection
solution
Type 2 Incretin mimetics (GLP-1 agonists) Amylin Pharmaceuticals Type 2 diabetes medication that helps to lower blood sugar levels by increasing the amount of insulin produced by the pancreas.
Bydreoun Exenatide Injection
solution
Type 2 Incretin mimetics (GLP-1 agonists) Amylin Pharmaceuticals Longer acting / extended-release form of exenatide (Byetta).
Competact Metformin hydrochloride

Pioglitazone hydrochloride
Tablet Type 2 Biguanides / Thiazolidinediones  Takeda Pharmaceuticals Metformin/pioglitazone combination treatment used to help control blood glucose in people with type 2 diabetes.
Diamicron Gliclazide Tablet Type 2 Sulphonylureas Servier Laboratories  Antidiabetic drug that stimulates the production of insulin in the pancreas to lower blood glucose levels.
Eucreas Metformin
hydrochloride

Vildagliptin
Tablet Type 2 Biguanides / DPP-4 inhibitors Novartis Pharmaceuticals  Metformin / vildagliptin combination treatment designed to help keep blood sugar level under control.
Forxiga  Dapagliflozin Tablet Type 2 SGLT2 inhibitors  Bristol-Myers
Squibb + AstraZeneca
PLC
Tablet diabetes drug that works to reduce blood sugar levels by helping the kidneys to remove excess sugar from the body and excrete it via urine.
Galvus Vildagliptin Tablet Type 2 DPP-4 inhibitors (Gliptins) Novartis Pharmaceuticals  Oral type 2 diabetes drug that increases production of two incretin hormones in the body, which work to keep blood glucose levels in check.
Glibenese (discontinued in the UK) Glipizide Tablet Type 2 Sulphonylureas Pfizer Limited Antidiabetic medicine for patients with non-insulin-dependent diabetes that works mainly by stimulating insulin production and secretion from the pancreas.
Gliclazide Gliclazide Tablet Type 2 Sulphonylureas Servier Laboratories  Oral hypoglycemic medicine for type 2 diabetes patients that works mainly by boosting the amount of insulin produced by the pancreas 
Glimepiride Glimepiride Tablet Type 2 Sulphonylureas N/A Medium- to long-acting sulfonylurea drug indicated for treatment of type 2 diabetes that works mainly by encouraging the pancreas to produce more insulin.
Glipizide Glipizide Tablet Type 2 Sulphonylureas N/A Oral antidiabetic drug that increases the amount of insulin produced by the pancreas to help reduce blood glucose levels.
GlucaGen Glucagon  Solution Type 1
Type 2
N/A Novo
Nordisk
Ltd
Antihypoglycemic medicine that uses glucagon to increase blood sugar levels in emergency siutations such as severe hypoglycemia. 
Glucobay Acarbose Tablet Type 2 Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors Bayer AG Oral drug that blocks the enzymes that digest starches in food, slowing down and reducing the rise in blood glucos throughout the day, especially after meals
Humalog Insulin lispro Solution Type 1
Type 2
Insulin Eli Lilly  Fast-acting form of insulin used to treat adults with diabetes for the control of high blood sugar.
Humalog Mix Insulin
lispro

Insulin
lispro
protamine
Solution Type 1
Type 2
Insulin Eli Lilly Humalog mixes consisting of 25% insulin lispro solution and 75% insulin lispro protamine suspension (Mix25) & 50% insulin lispro solution and 50% insulin lispro protamine suspension (Mix50). 
Humulin I Insulin
isophane
human
Injection
suspension
Type 1
Type 2
Insulin Eli Lilly Intermediate-acting insulin for the treatment of patients with diabetes mellitus who require insulin for the maintenance of glucose homeostasis.
Humulin M3  Insulin
isophane
human

Insulin
soluble
human
Injection
suspension
Type 1
Type 2
Insulin Eli Lilly Ready-made Humulin mixture formulation consisting of soluble inuslin (30%) and isophane insulin (70%).
Humulin S Insulin
soluble
human
Injection
solution
Type 1
Type 2
Insulin Eli Lilly  
Hypurin Bovine Isophane  Insulin
isophane
bovine
Injection
suspension
Type 1
Type 2
Insulin Wockhardt
UK Ltd
Intermediate-acting insulin used to help achieve normal blood glucose control in patients with insulin-dependent diabetes. 
Hypurin Bovine Lente  Insulin
zinc
suspension
mixed bovine
Injection
suspension
Type 1
Type 2
Insulin Wockhardt
UK Ltd
Long-acting insulin (produced using a mixture of insulin obtained from cow pancreas and zinc) that helps control blood glucose throughout the day.
Hypurin Bovine Protamine Zinc Insulin
protamine
zinc
bovine
Injection
suspension
Type 1
Type 2
Insulin Wockhardt
UK Ltd
Long-acting insulin (produced using a mixture of insulin obtained from cow pancreas, zinc and protamine) that helps control of blood glucose throughout the day.
Hypurin Porcine Isophane Insulin
isophane
porcine
Injection
suspension
Type 1
Type 2
Insulin Wockhardt UK
Ltd
Intermediate-acting insulin obtained from pig pancreas that helps control blood sugar levels during the day.
Hypurin Porcine Neutral  Insulin
soluble
porcine
Injection
solution
Type 1
Type 2
Insulin Wockhardt
UK Ltd
Rapid-acting insulin (soluble or neutral insulin) obtained from pig pancreas that helps keep blood sugar levels under control. 
Insulatard Insulin
isophane
human
Injection
suspension
Type 1
Type 2
Insulin Novo
Nordisk
Ltd
Intermediate-acting insulin for the treatment of patients with diabetes mellitus who require insulin for the maintenance of glucose homeostasis.
Insulin Glulisine Insulin
glulisine
Injection
solution
Type 1
Type 2
Insulin Sanofi-Aventis  Generic version of Apidra - a rapid acting, mealtime insulin used to help maintain blood sugar control for adults with type 2 diabetes or adults and children (4 years and older) with type 1 diabetes.
Insuman Basal Insulin
isophane
human
    Insulin    
Insuman Comb  Insulin
isophane human

Insulin
soluble
human
    Insulin    
Insuman Rapid  Insulin
soluble
human
    Insulin    
Invokana  Canagliflozin Tablet Type 2 SGLT2 inhibitors  Janssen Pharmaceuticals Tablet diabetes medication that works with your kidneys to help remove excess sugar from your body within urine and keep blood glucose levels under control.
Janumet Metformin
hydrochloride

Sitagliptin
phosphate
Tablet Type 2 Biguanides/DPP-4 inhibitors  Merck Sharp
& Dohme
Oral medicine that combines both metformin and sitagliptin to help manage blood sugar levels in patients with type 2 diabetes.
Januvia Sitagliptin
phosphate
monohydrate
Tablet Type 2 DPP-4 inhibitors (Gliptins) Merck Sharp
& Dohme
Oral type 2 diabetes medication which works by increasing the amount of incretin hormones in the body that help control blood sugar.
Lantus Insulin
glargine
Injection
solution
Type 1
Type 2
Insulin Sanofi-Aventis  Long-acting basal insulin analogue given once daily to assisit blood sugar control in people with diabetes.
Levermir Insulin
detemir
Injection
solution
Type 1
Type 2
Insulin Novo
Nordisk
Ltd
Long-acting human insulin analogue that helps control levels of blood glucose in diabetic patients.
Lucentis Ranibizumab Injection
solution
DMO: Diabetic
macular oedema  

wAMD: Wet age
related macular
degeneration

Macular oedema
caused by retinal
vein occlusion
Anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) medications Genentech Injectable medicine for the treatment of visual impairement caused by diabetic macular oedema or wet age-related macular degeneration.
Metformin Metformin
hydrochloride
Tablet Type 2 Biguanides Takeda
Pharmaceuticals
Oral anitdiabetic medication considered as the first-line of drug treatment for patients with type 2 diabetes, particulalry those who are also overweight or obese. 
Minodiab Gilpizide  Tablet Type 2 Sulphonylureas Pharmacia
Limited
Antidiabetic sulfonylurea drug designed to reduce blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes by stimulating insulin production in the pancreas. 
Mixtard (discontinued in the UK) Insulin
isophane human

Insulin
soluble
human
Injection
suspension

Type 1
Type 2

Insulin  Novo
Nordisk
Ltd
Pre-mixed combination of fast-acting and intermediate-acting insulin that provides a rapid blood glucose-lowering effect after injection, followed by a prolonged glycemic control effect.
NovoMix 30 Insulin aspart

Insulin
aspart
protamine
Injection
suspension
Type 1
Type 2
Insulin Novo
Nordisk
Ltd
Pre-mixed combination of fast-acting and long-acting insulin that rapidly lowers blood glucose following injection and helps maintain good blood glucose control throughout the day.
NovoRapid Insulin
aspart
Injection
solution
Type 1
Type 2
Insulin Novo
Nordisk
Ltd
Rapid-acting insulin analogue taken shortly before or shortly after a meal to control rising blood glucose levels after eating.
Onglyza Saxagliptin Tablet Type 2 DPP-4 inhibitors (Gliptins) Bristol-Myers
Squibb
Oral hypoglycemic agent that controls blood glucose levels in type 2 diabetes patients by increasing the level of incretin hormones in the body.
Pork Actrapid (discontinued in the UK) Insulin
soluble
porcine
Injection
solution
Type 1
Type 2
Insulin Novo
Nordisk
Ltd
Diabetes medicine containing soluble insulin obtained from pig pancreas that helps lower the amount of glucose in the blood.
Pork Mixtard (discontinued in the UK) Insulin
isophane porcine

Insulin
soluble
porcine
Injection
suspension
Type 1
Type 2
Insulin Novo
Nordisk
Ltd
Medication consisting of both short-acting insulin and intermediate-acting insulin that provides a rapid blood glucose-lowering effect after injection, followed by a prolonged glycemic control effect.
Prandin Repaglinide Tablet Type 2 Prandial glucose regulators (Glinides) Novo
Nordisk
Ltd
Antidiabetic drug that lowers blood glucose through a number of actions, including stimulating the release of insulin from the pancreas into the blood stream 
Regranex Becaplermin Gel Type 1
Type 2
Platelet derived growth factor (PDGF) Janssen-Cilag
Ltd
Gel indicated for the treatment of chronic, lower extremity ulcers caused by diabetic neuropathy.
Starlix Nateglinide Tablet Type 2 Prandial glucose regulators (Glinides) Novartis Pharmaceuticals  Tablet diabetes medication that triggers the release of insulin from the pancreas to lower blood sugar levels.
Symlin (not available in the UK) Pramlinitide Injection
solution
Type 1
Type 2
Amylin analogues Bristol
Myers-Squibb
Man-made version of the natural hormone amylin which works to reduce post-meal blood glucose levels.
Tolbutamide  Tolbutamide  Tablet Type 2
Sulphonylureas N/A Oral hypoglycemic medicine used to help manage type 2 diabetes largely by stimulating the release of more insulin from the pancreas.
Velosulin (discontinued in the UK) Insulin
soluble
human
Injection
solution
Type 1
Type 2
Insulin Novo
Nordisk
Ltd
Rapid-acting insulin intended intended for use in lowering blood glucose levels in patients with insulin-dependent diabetes.
Victoza Liraglutide Injection
solution
Type 2 Incretin mimetics (GLP-1 agonists) Novo
Nordisk
Ltd
Once-daily injectable medicine indicated for management of type 2 diabetes
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