Friday, May 25, 2007

A Boon for Byetta?

As doctors, patients and regulators rush to make sense of the recent NEJM study showing an increased risk of heart attack among patients taking GSK's Avandia, it looks like good news for Lilly's Byetta.

The GLP-1 analog--or 'smart drug', as Lilly execs like to call it, since it stimulates insulin secretion in a glucose-dependent way, reducing the risk of hypoglycemia--has already done pretty well since its launch in June 2005. It suffered a brief blip in sales when Merck's DPP-IV inhibitor Januvia arrived (since Januvia, although less effective, comes in pill form and Byetta is a twice-daily injection) but has since recovered. Sales will be about $700 million this year.

And things can only get better. "Both Januvia and Byetta will benefit from Avandia's problems, and as physicians see that Januvia isn't that great, they'll move to Byetta," David Kliff, publisher of Diabetic Investor, told the IN VIVO Blog.

Januvia seems safe--so far--but doesn't actually work that well, as we explained in a previous issue of IN VIVO. Byetta, on the other hand, not only is extremely effective at controlling blood sugar (it prevents sugar lows plus, because of its effect on glucagon, sugar highs) but also helps diabetic patients lose weight.

And that, frankly, is just perfect, since many diabetics are overweight, and since insulins tend to exacerbate that problem. So rather than being stuck on insulin, getting fatter and with poorly controlled blood sugar levels (only about a third of insulin users actually control their blood sugar effectively), patients "start a cycle of success," enthuses Lilly's global brand development leader for Byetta, David Vondle. "They have more energy, start feeling better, so they take a walk, and that helps with weight loss...and they're just more optimistic," he says.

Lilly's GLP-1 team probably feels pretty happy, too (unlike their cousins in the insulin department, who blew it). Not only has first-to-market Byetta brought a huge improvement to patients' lives, but there's an even bigger paradigm-shift on the way: a once weekly Byetta. "Every doctor is salivating for Byetta LAR," says Kliff.

They'll have to salivate until 2010, but it may be worth the wait: patients will be able to take just one weekly injection, rather than twice daily. That's 13 fewer injections per week.

That's a selling point if ever there was one. And, as with Avandia, where there's a winner, there's a loser. In the GLP-1 space, it might just be Novo Nordisk's human GLP-1 analog, liraglutide. It's due out a year or so before Byetta LAR, but Novo's not always the timeliest, and liraglutide is a once-daily. Read more in the next issue of IN VIVO.

1 comment:

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