Novo Nordisk successfully kicks off final-stage trials for first diabetes pill

COPENHAGEN, Feb 22 (Reuters) - The world’s largest diabetes drugmaker Novo Nordisk on Thursday presented the first successful data from a final-stage study for a pill it hopes will transform the diabetes market.

The oral form of the drug, known generically as semaglutide, is crucial for ensuring the group’s long-term growth, as price pressure has been mounting in a crowded market targeting the world’s 450 million diabetics.

Novo Nordisk said the first of 10 phase III trials were successful in its primary objective by demonstrating “significant and superior” improvements in long-term blood sugar compared to a placebo.

The trial also showed that the highest of the three tested doses - 3, 7 and 14 mg - demonstrated “significant and superior” weight loss. While weight loss was observed for the two smaller doses, they did not reach statistical significance.

The company’s shares rose on the news and traded 3.9 percent higher at 1032 GMT.

Novo Nordisk said it aims to provide data from the remaining nine trials this year and expects to submit the drug for regulatory approval in 2019.

Rivals, especially Eli Lilly, are watching Novo’s final-stage oral semaglutide trials closely, ahead of the drug’s potential 2020 launch.

The once-daily pill belongs to a blockbuster class of treatments known as GLP-1s that stimulate insulin production, the first of which were derived from the venomous bite of North America’s Gila monster lizard. So far, all have been injections.

Reporting by Stine Jacobsen; Editing by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and David Evans