Novo ready to test GLP-1 diabetes med for $35B liver disease market

Novo Nordisk ($NVO) has made diabetes its business for about a century, and all but exclusively. That's not going to change soon. At least not much. The company's foray into obesity drugs--with Saxenda, a new formulation of the active ingredient in its blockbuster GLP-1 drug Victoza--shows that diseases related to diabetes are close enough.

And once again, the company's GLP-1 approach could take it into another diabetes-related direction--a potentially lucrative one at that.

Novo R&D chief Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen

Novo has decided to test liraglutide--aka Victoza and Saxenda--or a longer-acting version dubbed semaglutide in fatty liver disease, Bloomberg reports. The research will start next year, R&D chief Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen told the news service.

The Danish drugmaker has been mulling the idea for some time, and it got a welcome nudge in that direction earlier this year, when a small study in NASH patients showed that Victoza could deliver results. Properly known as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, NASH is linked to obesity and diabetes, with insulin resistance very high among patients with the disease.

But liraglutide's benefits in NASH need to be further explored--researchers, for instance, weren't sure whether the treatment helped stop NASH and its associated liver scarring simply because it helped patients lose weight. Plus, the earlier study involved just 52 patients.

If Victoza or one of its cousins could prove itself in NASH, that would open up a brand-new market that some analysts peg at $35 billion. Novo isn't the only company eyeing NASH--Gilead Sciences ($GILD) and Shire ($SHPG) are working on their own projects in the field--but it would be the only drugmaker testing an FDA-approved product that's already been extensively studied in other diseases.

"It's exciting as it's an unmet need," Thomsen told the news service, adding that working on the disease is a natural for Novo, given that "NASH is clearly surrounding both diabetes and obesity."

The potential branch into liver disease follows Novo's decision to plant a flag in obesity. After developing Saxenda as a weight-loss treatment, the company is setting up an obesity-focused research center in Seattle. The idea is to make obesity a full-fledged therapeutic area within the company

- read the Bloomberg news

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