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Drugmakers angle for advantage in treating diabetes

Jun 29, 2011, 8:50 a.m.

"There is a large amount of people who don't know they have diabetes," said Dr. Stuart Weinerman, chief of endocrinology at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in New Hyde Park, New York. "There is an even larger group of people that have diabetes and don't control it adequately."

IMS also forecast growing use of oral diabetes medicines due to their convenience and efficacy.

"The aim is to preserve the option of oral therapy for as long as possible," said Boehringer's Smith.

Boehringer is also developing a member of a new class of drugs known as SGLT2 inhibitors, which are designed to block glucose from being absorbed into the bloodstream through the kidneys, allowing more sugar to be excreted with urine.

New data on another experimental SGLT2 inhibitor, dapafliglozin from Bristol-Myers Squibb and AstraZeneca , showed that it was effective in a two-year study. But more bladder and breast cancers were found in patients treated with the drug.

"The probability of these drugs causing cancer is very, very low ... the duration of the trials was too short," said Zonszein.

Lilly also featured information on Byetta, an injectable GLP-1 drug co-marketed with Amylin Pharmaceuticals , which is suing Lilly over its deal with Boehringer.

Amylin presented data at the conference showing no significant link between use of Byetta and heart rhythms, which is important since U.S. regulators have asked for a heart risk trial of the company's once-weekly GLP-1 drug, Bydureon.

That data is expected soon and Amylin said it plans to refile for U.S. regulatory approval of Bydureon in the second half of this year.

Drugmakers are also working on improved versions of insulin, the blood-sugar controlling hormone that is missing in people with type 1 diabetes and can be needed by patients with the more common type 2 diabetes.

Novo Nordisk , the world's biggest insulin producer, showed that its experimental long-acting insulin, degludec, lowered blood sugar levels with less risk of hypoglycemia, compared with Sanofi's Lantus.

Degludec is formulated with spacer molecules to provide a more steady rate of absorption than current insulins, said Alan Moses, Novo Nordisk's chief medical officer.

"It lines up like pearls on a string ... the insulin just basically drops off one molecule at a time from the ends," he explained.

Sanofi's diabetes division head, Dennis Urbaniak, said the French drugmaker aims to hold its market share with Lantus.

"Lots of other folks are trying to change that position," he said.

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