Victoza data supports early use as GLP debate looms

Novo Nordisk has some good news about its diabetes drug Victoza. A new data analysis found that Type 2 diabetes patients saw better blood-sugar control when they took Victoza early on. But it also faces some potentially bad news. Experts are set to debate a potential link between Victoza and other GLP-1 drugs and pancreatic cancer.

In the 26-week analysis, Victoza was given to patients who'd either never been treated before, or who'd only used only one oral diabetes treatment. These patients were compared with those using two or more oral diabetes meds. The Victoza patients got better control of their blood sugar than those on other meds did. What's more, the data demonstrated early Victoza use showed promise at improving the function of insulin-producing beta cells, when compared with turning to the drug later in the course of treatment.

Victoza has typically been used later in diabetes treatment, after patients have used other remedies, as Reuters points out. "These data...highlight in a scientific manner that it makes sense using Victoza already as a second drug," Novo's CSO Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen told the news service, adding the standard metformin therapy often proves insufficient within the first two to 5 years of treatment.

But Novo Nordisk does face some bad news. A data review showing patients using Eli Lilly ($LLY) and Amylin Pharmaceuticals' ($AMLN) GLP-1 analogue Byetta and Merck's ($MRK) DDP-4 inhibitor Januvia, which also raises levels of GLP-1, saw a sixfold increase in their chances of developing pancreatitis. And pancreatitis, in turn, boosts the risk of tumors, the researchers found.

Lilly, Amylin and Merck all dispute the potential for a link between their drugs and cancer, saying available data doesn't support it. Novo's Thomsen told Bloomberg that Victoza has a "very benign side effect profile" when it comes to pancreatitis and cancer risk. "The more evidence we gather, the more we are seeing a level of pancreatitis that is well within the expected range for people who have type 2 diabetes," he said.

The safety analysis is up for discussion at this week's European Association for the Study of Diabetes meeting, Bloomberg notes, where one of the study authors will present new data on GLP-1 drugs. "It's a very tricky story," Viktor Joergens, EASD executive director, told the news service. "You probably need decades and incredible numbers of people to study things like that. It will be a very interesting debate particularly because these drugs are now widely prescribed."

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ALSO: Type 2 diabetes drugs might be useful in treating the Type 1 form of the disease. Report