The rising global prevalence of diabetes

As the Covid-19 pandemic dominated the headlines over the past year, the fact that the number of people living with — and dying from — diabetes has continued to rise has gone rather unnoticed.

Diabetes or its complications were responsible for the death of 6.7 million people worldwide in 2021, that’s one death every five seconds. Maybe surprisingly, there were more diabetes related deaths in 2021 than the 5.1 million registered global Covid-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic in early 2020.

As a top 10 cause of death worldwide, diabetes also indirectly contributes to a much higher number of deaths. It is a major risk factor for developing infections and a leading cause of cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks and stroke, chronic kidney disease or failure, as well as blindness and lower limb amputation.

Unfortunately, the prevalence of diabetes is growing at an alarming rate around the world. More than one in ten adults (10.5%) aged between 20 and 79 years of age, or 537 million people, globally are living with diabetes today. That’s up from a prevalence of diabetes amongst adults of just 4.6%, or 151 million people, just 20 years ago.

Further, over coming decades this trend will continue to rise sharply according to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF). The IDF predict that by 2030 there will be 643 million adults living with diabetes, a figure that will reach 784 million by 2045.

Alongside the rising prevalence of Type 2 diabetes is a rise in Impaired Glucose Tolerance. Individuals with glucose intolerance have blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes, yet they are at risk of developing diabetes.

Like diabetes, increasing numbers of people are becoming more glucose intolerant — there are now 541 million adults with Impaired Glucose Tolerance (IGT), placing them at high risk of Type 2 diabetes.

What’s behind the rise in diabetes?

The increasing prevalence of Type 2 diabetes is related to changing lifestyles including unhealthy eating habits and physical inactivity resulting in obesity. Having nearly tripled since 1975, there were 1.9 billion overweight adults worldwide in 2016 with 650 million of those classed as obese.

The COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and associated rise in inactivity are believed to have exacerbated weight gain and glucose intolerance, increasing the risk of developing diabetes in the long run.

Furthermore, a high proportion of people with diabetes were among hospitalised Covid-19 patients, those with severe manifestations of Covid-19, and those who have succumbed to the virus. The pandemic also severely disrupted diabetes treatments and services.

While historically thought of as an issue of high-income countries, rates of overweight and obesity are rising dramatically in low- and middle-income countries. This has translated to more than four in five (81%) adults with diabetes now living in low- and middle-income countries.

As for children, the WHO estimates that 39 million children under the age of five were overweight or obese in 2020 and we know that these children are more likely than non-overweight children to develop diabetes at a young age.

This is a trend that looks set to continue with the vast majority of overweight or obese children living in developing countries, where the rate of increase has been more than 30% higher than that of developed countries. These low- and middle-income countries currently have poor management and treatment of diabetes.

A growing market for diabetes treatment options

Responsible for an estimated US$966 billion in global health expenditure in 2021 — after rising by 316% over the last 15 years — the increasing prevalence of diabetes presents a significant and growing market for diabetes treatment options.

Clinical stage, biotechnology company Myopharm is focused on developing first in class therapeutic products for the treatment and prevention of diabetes.

The Australian biotechnology company is in a unique position to address the large global diabetes market and is currently developing a number of diabetes assets, including Omni-D, a clinically proven pre‐meal glycaemic control product for Type 2 diabetes and Pre‐Type 2 diabetes.

Omni-D has recently launched to participants at the Australasian Diabetes Congress, in the leadup to a full consumer launch early in 2022 through healthcare and allied health network in Australia.

The pre-meal glycaemic product reduces the blood glucose spike that occurs after consuming a standard meal and in the long term improve overall glycaemic control (HbA1c levels). This provides a drug-free alternative to those seeking to manage their Type-2 diabetes or pre-diabetes.