* Head-to-head trial finds degludec similar to Lantus
* Trend to less hypoglycaemia, but not significant
* Further degludec results due later this year and 2011
By Ben Hirschler
LONDON, Oct 27 Rival drugmakers Novo Nordisk
(NOVOb.CO) and Sanofi-Aventis (SASY.PA) still have all to play
for in the multibillion-dollar long-acting insulin market after
a new product from the Danish group failed to show a clear edge.
Degludec, which Novo hopes to launch in 2013, was developed
as an improvement over existing long-acting insulins, capable of
delivering equivalent or better blood sugar control with fewer
episodes of dangerously low blood sugar levels.
In fact, results of a head-to-head study against Sanofi's
Lantus released on Wednesday showed comparable reductions in
blood glucose levels and only a trend towards lower risk of
hypoglycaemia, which was not statistically significant.
Novo reported the results of the six-month Phase III trial
alongside better-than-expected third-quarter results.
Mark Clark, an industry analyst at Deutsche Bank, said the
fact degludec and Lantus were essentially equivalent was
positive for Sanofi, which generated revenue of 3.08 billion
euros ($4.3 billion) from Lantus in 2009.
The French group is particularly reliant on Lantus because
it faces a wave of patent expiries on other blockbuster
medicines. That big patent "cliff" is a key reason behind its
$18.5 billion bid for U.S. biotech group Genzyme GENZ.O, as it
hunts additional sources of revenue.
"Although there are further head-to-head studies due to
report end-2010 and early-2011, today's data makes us more
confident Lantus has substantial growth ahead of it," Clark
He expects Lantus sales to reach nearly 5 billion euros in
2015, equivalent to some 15 percent of group sales.
Emmanuel Papadakis of Collins Stewart also said the latest
clinical trial results would not dispel scepticism over
Novo shares were 1.4 percent higher by 1130 GMT, as results
of the degludec study took some of the shine off its impressive
financial performance. Sanofi was up 0.3 percent, while the
broader European drugs sector .SXDP added 0.4 percent.
The world's biggest insulin maker, the Danish company is
banking on degludec to consolidate its market lead in the years
ahead, when it faces the risk of competition from cheaper
so-called biosimilar versions of some of its products.
The new insulin is a challenger not only to Lantus but also
Novo's own best-selling long-acting insulin, Levemir.
Novo still has other opportunities to prove it has a better
product as results from larger and long-lasting clinical studies
come in this year and next.
(Editing by David Hulmes)