pressure in diabetes, Novo Nordisk steps up focus on
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[November 21, 2017] By
Stine Jacobsen and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen
MÅLØV, Denmark (Reuters) - Danish drugmaker
Novo Nordisk is stepping up its efforts to treat obesity, seeking to tap
into a potentially huge market as its established diabetes drugs come
under price pressure, particularly in the United States.
The world's largest maker of diabetes drugs said on Tuesday it would
aim to develop medicines that treat obesity - a major cause of
diabetes - at least as effectively as surgery.
Its initial big hope is semaglutide, a once-weekly injection that is
expected to be launched as a diabetes treatment next year. The new
drug, in the so-called GLP-1 category, imitates an intestinal
hormone that stimulates the production of insulin.
In a research and strategy update, Novo said it planned to start a
final phase 3 clinical trial program with once-weekly subcutaneous
semaglutide in obesity in the first half of 2018. It will involve
around 4,500 patients.
Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975 and the World Health
Organization estimates that in 2016 more than 650 million adults
were obese - with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. However,
just 2 percent are on obesity medication.
Shares in Novo are down around 14 percent over the past two years
after price pressures in the United States forced it to cut its
long-term operating profit growth target twice last year from 15 to
5 percent. The stock was little changed on Tuesday.
COMPETE WITH SURGERY
Novo said it hoped to achieve a weight loss that can compete with
surgery by combining semaglutide with new biological drugs.
"Maybe 25 percent (weight loss) or beyond, but we start by setting
the bar at 15 percent or beyond," senior vice president of global
research Peter Kurtzhals told investors at the company's capital
markets day near Copenhagen.
Two out of the six obesity projects currently in phase 1 trials are
expected to move to phase 2 next year, Novo said.
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The company's obesity pipeline mainly explores projects addressing
weight loss by reducing appetite and thereby food intake, but is
also looking at increasing energy consumption.
Novo launched its first obesity drug in 2015, marketed as Saxenda.
Other prescription drugs on the U.S. market are Roche's Xenical,
Vivus' Qsymia, Eisai's Belviq and Orexigen's Contrave.
Brokerage Nordea sees sales from Novo's obesity franchise rising to
$4 billion in 2025, fueled by semaglutide.
Semaglutide is expected to be approved as a diabetes treatment in
December and is - in addition to obesity - also being tested on
non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), known as fatty liver, and
cardiovascular and chronic kidney diseases.
Semaglutide will be launched under the brand name Ozempic, Novo
said. It will take aim at Eli Lilly's Trulicity, to which Novo's
once-daily Victoza drug is currently losing market share.
(Reporting by Stine Jacobsen; Editing by Louise Heavens and Mark
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