Merck ($MRK) has emerged as the dominant player in the market for diabetes drugs known as DPP-4 inhibitors, with the blockbuster success of its first-in-class therapy Januvia. And the Whitehouse Station, NJ-based pharma giant has built a pipeline of novel and combo therapies that could build on this position.
Last week Merck touted results of a midstage study of its next-gen drug in this class called MK-3102, a once-weekly DPP-4 inhibitor that is chemically distinct from Januvia or sitagliptin, which is taken daily. The candidate lowered A1C levels with no significant difference in hypoglycemia compared with placebo in the 12-week study, and the drug has shown an ability to inhibit more than 80% of its target enzyme for 7 days. Merck is now pushing ahead with late-stage trials.
Merck has also sought to advance Januvia in a number of combination therapies with generic diabetes and cardio drugs. The company is now in late-stage development of a pill that contains both Januvia and the active ingredient in Pfizer's ($PFE) cholesterol drug Lipitor for patients with Type 2 diabetes and an artery-hardening ailment known as atherosclerosis, having already gained approvals of a combo that includes metformin, Janumet, and one with its off-patent cholesterol drug Zocor, Juvisync.
Studying combinations of approved meds is hardly pushing the envelope on innovative drug development. However, Merck has shown an appetite for risk in backing a potentially game-changing diabetes therapy. In December 2010 it revealed its buyout, potentially exceeding $500 million, of SmartCells and the MIT spinoff's glucose-sensitive insulin formulation, which at the time had yet to reach human trials.
Merck pumped about promising IIb results for once-weekly diabetes drug
Boosted by Januvia, Merck bests expectations by a penny