Novo's Tresiba could get market boost from new data on low blood sugar episodes

Novo Nordisk has some new data showing that its long-acting insulin Tresiba results in significantly fewer nighttime low blood sugar episodes than its nemesis Lantus, while carrying about the same risk of serious heart issues, offering a spark of good news during a tough time for Danish drugmaker.

Novo reported results today from the DEVOTE study of more than 7,600 people with Type 2 diabetes, which found no statistical difference between Tresiba and Sanofi’s Lantus when it came to cardiovascular events, its primary endpoint. When it came to the secondary endpoint of severe hypoglycemia, Tresiba use resulted in 54% fewer patients having severe episodes at night than those taking Lantus, the drugmaker reported.

Novo will be looking for the study to help the drug scoop up some of the massive market share that Lantus still commands. Citing stats from IMS, the Wall Street Journal reports, Lantus had 66% of the total market for long-acting insulin at the end of September while Tresiba had a scant 3%.

The drugmaker had expected great things from the Lantus competitor back in 2013, when it expected to get FDA approval, but its hopes were smashed when the FDA insisted that Novo do more studies for cardio risks. So it wasn’t until three years later that Novo launched the drug, by which time the market had evolved significantly. Biosimilar competition was beginning to emerge for Lantus, while payers had started to clamp down severely on ever-increasing insulin prices. They pitted drugmakers against each other, favoring some on formularies in exchange for bigger discounts.

That hit Novo particularly hard given that it sells almost exclusively into the diabetes market. The drugmaker said in September that it would have to cut loose 1,000 employees and the next month cut its earnings projection in half for the year because of pricing pressures. With prices expected to remain flat for another year or two, Novo will have to get revenue growth through new products and stealing market share. 

Tresiba has some selling points. It lasts 42 hours and has a profile that allows patients to dose at any time of day. Now Novo has more data about its superiority to Lantus in preventing episodes of low blood sugar.