Lilly, Novo chase Sanofi with new diabetes drugs

Expect a showdown in the diabetes drug market to break out in the coming years as Eli Lilly ($LLY) and Novo Nordisk ($NVO) advance experimental insulin treatments. As Reuters' Ben Hirschler writes, those two contenders are targeting a market for long-lasting insulin drugs that Sanofi ($SNY) now has cornered with the blockbuster Lantus.

Novo, with perhaps the nearest competitive threat to Sanofi's franchise, is counting on the FDA to decide on whether to approve its developmental drug Tresiba in late July and garner a similar signoff from European regulators later this year, Reuters reports. And Lilly could add intrigue to this contest next year when the company is expected to unveil Phase III data on LY2605541, the basal insulin analogue that could pack the added punch of offering a weight-loss benefit.

Diabetes rates have skyrocketed around the world and in the U.S., and drugmakers have been gearing up on the R&D and commercial fronts to grab a share of the growing market. Denmark-based Novo has recently launched a major U.S. recruitment blitz, expecting to add new reps and researchers to aid its growing diabetes franchise and boost its U.S. workforce by 15%. Last year Lilly hammered out a deal with Boehringer Ingelheim that included LY2605541 and other developmental diabetes products as Lilly sought to build one of the world's most extensive lines of diabetes drugs.

Sanofi aims to fortify the French drug giant's position in diabetes with an experimental combo of Lantus and a GLP-1 drug to help patients control their blood sugar, Reuters reports. Novo already has one of the top GLP-1 products with the approved Victoza, and, banking on the Boehringer pact, Lilly sold off rights to GLP-1 drugs from Amylin Pharmaceuticals ($AMLN) last year. Not surprisingly, Bloomberg reported over the weekend, Sanofi is one of two large drugmakers along with Merck ($MRK) that have put in bids to buy Amylin.

Pharma players will likely ride in to attend the American Diabetes Association meeting next month, where doctors will discuss the latest challenges and triumphs in diabetes care. Blood-sugar control is always a major issue for these patients, and, as Reuters reports, both Lilly and Novo's long-lasting insulin products are associated with reduced instances of patients' blood sugar tanking, a common result of insulin treatments.  

- read Reuters' article

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