Novo, Sanofi duke it out in diabetes market

If you've been following Novo Nordisk's ($NVO) new diabetes drug Tresiba, you know that it will take aim at Sanofi's ($SNY) big gorilla of a basal insulin drug, Lantus. The stakes are huge for Sanofi, which collected $6.38 billion in Lantus sales last year. They're also high for Novo, which is counting on Tresiba to fuel near-term growth.

As the Novo drug inched its way toward approval, the two companies have put up dueling studies and generated dueling headlines. But their rivalry extends beyond those two headlining drugs, Bloomberg reports. Sanofi CEO Christopher Viehbacher has aimed a zing or two at Novo's Levemir. Novo has used Levemir against Lantus, too.

Sanofi actually sued Novo over a German flyer that took aim at Lantus-related weight gain. And the French drugmaker wasn't happy when Novo CEO Lars Sørensen touted Levemir's safety--on the heels of data hinting at an increase in cancer risk in Lantus patients. The latest dig? As Bloomberg notes, Novo has stolen Sanofi-sponsored cyclist Phil Southerland for its own racing team.

"I don't think it's a particularly healthy situation," Viehbacher told Bloomberg of the rivalry. "We should be medically focused and scientifically focused and that's certainly what I'd like to see from us. But everybody's got to defend their interest."

There's plenty of reason why the companies are jockeying for position in diabetes, of course. Unfortunately for public health, the diabetes market is growing lickety-split worldwide. Drugmakers want their share.

Lantus got another reprieve recently when FDA delayed Tresiba once again. That gives Sanofi time to develop some new Lantus formulations. But Sanofi will have to face Tresiba in Europe, where the Novo drug has won a premium pricing advantage. "It's a vulnerable time for both," diabetes researcher Edwin Gale told the news service.

- see the Bloomberg story