Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center uncovered the finding while researching darbepoetin alpha, which helps produce red blood cells to counteract anemia, a condition in which patients do not produce enough healthy red blood cells.
The drug -- manufactured by Amgen and sold under the name Aranesp® -- was found to lower the risk of blood transfusion in anemia patients, but did not improve cardiovascular or kidney-related outcomes. People taking the drug in the study had a two-fold increase in stroke risk and higher incidence of cancer-related death.
The study followed 4,038 participants who had type 2 diabetes, anemia and had experienced kidney damage, but not enough to require dialysis. Of those enrolled, 1,872 received the drug via injection, and 1,889 received placebo injections. (If a patient in the control group dropped to a dangerous hemoglobin level, they received “rescue therapy” with darbepoetin.)
Patients were then divided into two categories: those whose hemoglobin levels promptly increased in response to early doses of darbepoetin alpha and those whose hemoglobin levels remained low. (Hemoglobin is the the oxygen-transporting protein that contains iron found in red blood cells.)
Poor initial responses to the drug meant higher death rates and increased incidents of heart attack, stroke or heart failure, according to the study.
About 1 million Americans experience a combination of type 2 diabetes, chronic kidney disease and anemia.