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New diabetes drug launched in UK

Published on 14/03/07 at 11:33am

A new diabetes medicine, which mimics the body's natural processes for controlling blood sugar, has been launched in the UK.

The product, Byetta, is administered by injection, and will compete against long-acting injectable insulin products such as Sanofi-Aventis' Lantus and Novo Nordisk's Levemir.

Its greatest selling point is that many patients lose weight when taking the treatment, in contrast to those taking insulin analogues. But the need to inject the drug is still a downside for those patients who have previously controlled their blood sugar with oral drugs alone.

Merck's Januvia, a new oral medication, is expected to be launched in Europe this year, and will compete with Byetta for patients whose diabetes is not under control using existing oral medications.

Available in the US since mid-2005, Byetta is expected to reach sales in excess of $500 million this year, competing with Sanofi-Aventis' Lantus which earned over $2 billion last year.

Byetta (exenatide) mimics the actions of  GLP-1,  a naturally occurring incretin hormone  that  is  released from the gut in response to food intake.

The drug is licensed to treat type II diabetes in combination with metformin, and/or sulphonylureas in patients who have not achieved adequate glycaemic control on maximally tolerated doses of these therapies.

Developers Lilly and biotech company Amarin say that because the drug stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin only in response to raised blood sugar, it produces control closer to that seen in healthy individuals.

The companies say clinical trials have shown Byetta to be as good as insulin analogues in controlling blood sugar, and produced a weight loss in many patients, while many patients using the analogues put on weight.

Welcoming the launch, Melanie Davies, Professor of Diabetes Medicine at the University of Leicester, said: "To have a completely  new  class of drug for diabetes is an exciting development.  

"Exenatide targets beta cell dysfunction, one of the main defects in type II diabetes. The availability of a treatment that demonstrated, in clinical trials, a potential to significantly lower blood sugar and lower weight, is a promising advance for patients with type II diabetes."

Jo Butler,  Diabetes Consultant Nurse, commented: "Diabetes in the UK is reaching epidemic  proportions  and  large  numbers  of  patients  are currently uncontrolled on oral medications. Therefore, any new treatment which may help patients gain control of their blood glucose levels is a welcome addition."

The drug is derived from the venom of the gila monster, a rare lizard found in the deserts of the southwest United States and Mexico, which produces a hormone which is longer-lasting than the naturally occurring human GLP-1.

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