Diabetes Pills and Pens are the New Hope for Drug Companies - Dispatch Weekly

September 12, 2016 - Reading time: 8 minutes

Novo Nordisk A/S, the largest industry player, is investing in new diabetes drugs that can be given as a pill rather than being injected in a bid to survive pricing competition.

Sanofi and Google parent Alphabet Inc. are devoting $500 million to a venture combining software and medicine to track the disease.

Meanwhile, researchers are developing the first artificial pancreas when the biological organ fails. ‘Smart patches’ are also a growing market where insulin is given to diabetics to manage blood sugar and insulin levels.

Photo Credit: Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation
Photo Credit: Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation

Diabetes and Death in America

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014, 29.1 million people or 9.3 percent of the population have diabetes.

There were 21 million people who were diagnosed and a further 8.1 million people (27.8 percent of people with diabetes who were undiagnosed).

In 2013, diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death (out of a total of 2,596,993 deaths registered in the US).

According to the NHS.uk, diabetes leads to health complications such as heart disease, strokes, atherosclerosis, poor blood supply, which may lead to angina (dull, heavy or tight pain in the chest), heart attacks and strokes.

Photo Credit: idf.org
Photo Credit: idf.org

By 2050, Over 640 million May Live with Diabetes

According to WDD guide by the International Diabetes Federation, by 2050, over 640 million of us may be living with diabetes.

The disease caused at least USD 673 billion dollars in health expenditure in 2015, or 12 percent of total spending on adults.

This could be due to long work hours, sedentary life and poor eating habits.

Factbook, 2014, found that compared to other countries Americans work the longest amount of average hours at 34.4 hours a week.

Photo Credit: Factbook
Photo Credit: Factbook

Competition, Over Crowding and Personalized Solutions

Stefan Oelrich, head of Sanofi’s global diabetefranchise said:

“It’s getting crowded, and in order to differentiate it’s not just sufficient any longer to have the best insulin.”

“You have to go beyond that. I think this is going to be the way over time to do that, to integrate, to take data from patients and come up with more personalized solutions.”

This week sees the annual European Association for the Study of Diabetes meeting in Munich this week, looking for innovative ways to increase sales due to the sheer volume of copycat medicines on offer.

Inventive Diabetes Pens and Patches

Companion Medical’s insulin pens by San-Diego company, paired with a smartphone app that will be used in the US, with Eli Lilly & Co.’s treatment Humalog or Novo’s top selling NovoLog.

Patients will be able to track and measure doses and simultaneous send this information to health care practitioners.

Photo Credit: companion-medical.com
Photo Credit: companion-medical.com

A patch with tiny needles that secretes insulin to control blood-sugar levels on demand is being developed by researchers at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University, with further testing needed.

Medtronic Plc is also growing an artificial pancreas the size of a smartphone that can wirelessly connect an insulin pump and glucose monitor.

Oral Solutions and the End of Needle Injections

Novo is testing an oral version of GLP-1, a drug that stimulates the pancreas as well as oral insulin. OramedPharmaceuticals is following suit, expecting oral insulin to enter late-stage trials in 2017.

Oral insulin has been tried and tested before but must be able to pass the gut wall, entering the bloodstream.

Photo Credit: Bloomberg
Photo Credit: Bloomberg

Soerensen, head of Novo said that oral diabetic treatments are the “biggest research area in the company’s history.”

Kim Nielsen, a fund manager at Carnegie Asset Management in Copenhagen and a Novo investor said:

“An oral insulin could be a major breakthrough,” adding, “If somebody succeeds in bringing a product to market that is good and reliable, it also will be a big leap forward in convenience.”

DW Staff

David Lintott is the Editor-in-Chief, leading our team of talented freelance journalists. He specializes in covering culture, sport, and society. Originally from the decaying seaside town of Eastbourne, he attributes his insightful world-weariness to his roots in this unique setting.