Novo Nordisk A/S predicts it will benefit from Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.’s $5.3 billion purchase of Amylin Pharmaceuticals Inc. as their promotion of diabetes products may increase demand for Novo’s own range.
Bristol-Myers and its partner AstraZeneca Plc’s push to expand revenue from Amylin’s Byetta and Bydureon medicines, helped by “big sales forces,” will boost the market for GLP-1 agonists, a new class of diabetes drugs to which the treatments belong, alongside Novo’s Victoza, Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, Novo’s chief scientific officer, said in an interview.
“Bristol-Myers and AstraZeneca will go out and talk about GLP-1s,” Thomsen said yesterday in Berlin, where he attended the European Association for the Study of Diabetes conference. “That’s good for everyone, including Novo Nordisk.”
Pharmaceutical companies are rushing to develop new treatments for diabetes, a disease that afflicted 366 million people worldwide last year, according to the International Diabetes Federation. The market is likely to grow to more than $58 billion in 2018 from $35 billion now, Standard & Poor’s said in a report yesterday.
People suffering from diabetes lack the insulin needed to convert blood sugar into energy. GLP-1 analogues such as Bydureon and Victoza mimic the function of a digestive hormone that stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin after meals. The GLP-1 market, which didn’t exist in 2007, may balloon to $7 billion by 2018, according to Natixis Securities.
Novo, based in Bagsvaerd, Denmark, doesn’t consider the increased competition as “a long-term threat” because once-daily Victoza is a better medicine than the twice-daily Byetta, Bydureon is complicated to administer and the rest of the Bristol-AstraZeneca products won’t overlap, Thomsen said.
“Byetta and Bydureon, they are what they are, the change in ownership won’t change much,” Thomsen said.
Novo is developing a new once-weekly GLP-1 of its own, semaglutide, a direct competitor of Bydureon, also a once-a-week treatment, Thomsen said. Results from a mid-stage trial of semaglutide were presented for the first time at EASD this week. The drug was shown to lower blood sugar levels and weight more than Victoza. Nausea and vomiting were high with the highest doses, side effects that could be problematic if repeated in further trials.
“The potency of semaglutide surprised us a lot,” Thomsen said. The side effects were caused by an exceedingly “aggressive” dosing regimen, he said. In late-stage tests, due to begin next year, the dosing will be better adjusted, Thomsen said. Unlike Bydureon, which has a thick needle and is painful, semaglutide will be administered with a thin needle, he said.
Diabetics rely on frequent injections when the disease is at an advanced stage, and painful shots or injections that are complicated to administer can be an obstacle to use of a drug.
The semaglutide results were “encouraging,” Philippe Lanone, an analyst at Natixis Securities in Paris, wrote in a note yesterday. The drug could garner annual peak sales of 15 billion Danish kroner ($2.62 billion) by 2025, he said.
The GLP-1 field is getting crowded. Eli Lilly & Co. and GlaxoSmithKline Plc are among other companies developing experimental GLP-1s, which, if approved, would compete with Novo’s products.
GLP-1s “are smart, smart agents,” David Matthews, a professor of diabetic medicine at the University of Oxford, said in an interview in Berlin. “They reduce weight, they change people’s appetite, they have effects way outside the pancreas” and don’t lead to dangerously low blood levels, a condition known as hypoglycemia that can be caused by insulin use, potentially leading to coma or death.
“There is no way that the GLP-1 market is going to go away,” Matthews said.