Novo Nordisk A/S (NOVOB), the world’s biggest insulin maker, is seeing a rebound in sales of its Victoza diabetes treatment in the U.S. after a few months of flat growth, Chief Financial Officer Jesper Brandgaard said.
Victoza sales in the U.S., the biggest market for drugs, are “beginning to have some momentum again” Brandgaard said in a telephone interview today. There’s been a pickup “in the last three to four weeks in terms of prescriptions,” he said.
Novo, based in the Copenhagen suburb of Bagsvaerd, earlier today reported a 13 percent increase in third-quarter profit, missing analysts’ estimates because of slower-than-expected expansion for Victoza, the company’s biggest growth engine. The shares fell as much as 4.5 percent, their steepest intraday drop since March 18, and were down 3.9 percent to 948.5 kroner as of 11:33 a.m. in the Danish capital.
Revenue from Victoza, which mimics a hormone called GLP-1 and stimulates natural insulin production, climbed 14 percent to 2.85 billion kroner ($523 million) in the third quarter, Novo said today. That’s less than the average analyst estimate of 3.03 billion kroner.
“Victoza is slowing down,” Alistair Campbell, an analyst at Berenberg Bank in London who has a hold recommendation on Novo shares, said in a telephone interview. “It’s one of their key growth products. The whole GLP-1 market has been a bit concerning of late.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in March it was reviewing unpublished findings by a group of researchers suggesting pre-cancerous cellular changes may be associated with Type 2 diabetes treatments known as incretin mimetics, including Victoza. Studies have linked Victoza and similar medicines to a higher risk of pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. Novo also recently lost a contract to provide insulin and Victoza to Express Scripts Holding Co. (ESRX), the largest U.S. processor of prescription drug claims.
To help sustain Victoza sales, the Danish company has begun a consumer marketing campaign in the U.S., Brandgaard said during the interview. Physicians also were reassured after a European Medicines Agency committee and a National Institutes of Health workshop earlier this year didn’t find enough evidence to support scientists’ concerns about GLP-1s, he said.
“The worry of the general practitioner in terms of elevated risk of pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer attached to the whole incretin class is beginning to subside,” he said. “These are the two factors I would ascribe to rebounding growth occurring into the fourth quarter,” Brandgaard said, referring to Victoza sales in the U.S.
Victoza has helped Novo sustain growth following the rejection of its new insulin Tresiba in the U.S. earlier this year. The FDA demanded a new study to assess the heart risk of the product. Novo originally aimed for approval of the treatment as early as 2012. It’s now targeting a U.S. introduction by 2016 or 2017. Novo said today it has started enrolling patients for the study, and expects data from an interim analysis of the trial to be available within two to three years.
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