AstraZeneca trumpets diabetes duo's victory in Phase III

While its top executives were prepping for a hearing on Pfizer's ($PFE) megamerger offer, AstraZeneca ($AZN) rolled out new data from a diabetes trial. The verdict? A combination of the company's two diabetes pills, Onglyza and Farxiga, bested either drug alone.

The three-arm, 534-patient trial compared metformin plus the duo against metformin plus Farxiga (dapagliflozin) and metformin plus Onglyza (saxagliptin), in patients who weren't getting adequate blood sugar control from metformin alone.

After 24 weeks of therapy, a key measure of blood glucose, HbA1c, fell an average of 1.47% in patients who took both drugs, compared with 1.2% in the Farxiga group and less than 1% in the Onglyza group. Plus, more patients in the combo group hit their blood sugar goal of less than 7% HbA1c: 41%, compared with 18% in the Onglyza group and 22% in the Farxiga group.

Julio Rosenstock

Lead investigator Julio Rosenstock, director of the Dallas Diabetes and Endocrine Center and a University of Texas Southwestern Medical School professor, said that the two drugs work in different and complementary ways, and using them together didn't trigger more side effects than the individual drugs did alone.

Onglyza is a DPP-4 inhibitor, competing with drugs such as Merck's ($MRK) Januvia (sitagliptin); Farxiga is one in a new class of drugs, SGLT-2 inhibitors, with Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Invokana (canagliflozin) as its current rival. The combo could be a useful alternative for patients whose blood sugar isn't adequately controlled, even early on in the disease, Rosenstock said.

AstraZeneca has a lot at stake with Farxiga, the newest addition to its diabetes lineup. In fact, it has a lot at stake with its entire diabetes franchise, after spending billions to buy out its former partner, Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY), not to mention forking over a $600 million milestone payment to BMS when Farxiga won FDA approval.

Plus, the company is depending on diabetes to help fuel growth as it fights back from the loss of patent protection on its blockbuster antipsychotic Seroquel and braces for generic rivals to the big-selling stomach drug Nexium, set to appear this month. Another of its top sellers, the cholesterol fighter Crestor, faces generic competitors in 2016 under a patent settlement.

- read the release from AstraZeneca

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