A new kind of long-acting insulin, developed by pharmaceutical giant Sanofi, has shown promising results in clinical trials, according to information released by the company.
The investigational insulin, called U300, is based on the glargine molecule, which is also used in Sanofi’s Lantus brand. But U300 works for a longer time than Lantus, reduces blood sugar more consistently (the research term for this is that it has a “flatter profile”) and produces fewer hypoglycemic episodes.
“We are encouraged by these results, which suggest that U300 could be a viable treatment option for a wide range of people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes,” said Pierre Chancel, a senior vice president at Sanofi.
The most notable news from the results was the drop in hypoglycemia. Among a group of type 2 diabetics already using long-acting insulin, 23 percent fewer patients had overnight lows on U300, compared with those using Lantus. That’s a noticeable–and notable–difference.
On average, participants in the study were 58 years old and been diagnosed with diabetes for nearly 13 years. They were studied over a period of six months. Researchers also found that low-blood sugar events during the day were also cut in the group treated with U300 insulin.
“Reducing the risk of hypoglycemic events is imperative for effective management of diabetes, and (this trial) suggests that U300 reduces the risk of these events, even in a challenging patient population who have been on high basal insulin doses and oral medications without being able to achieve their treatment targets,” said researcher Hannele Yki-Jarvinen of the University of Helsinki, Finland.
Sanofi has a pressing reason to develop new types of insulin. According to Bloomberg News, Lantus will lose its patent protection next year. While that doesn’t mean that generic Lantus will flood the market (such drugs face barriers in the United States, although quasi-generics called biosimilars are available overseas), the company wants to protect itself.
Richard Parkes of Deutsche Bank AG in London told Bloomberg that “the ideal situation for them is they’ve got something that’s Lantus, but slightly better. That allows you to protect a significant portion of your franchise from biosimilar risk.”
The drug could pay off handsomely, too. According to Bloomberg, analysts from Berenberg Bank and Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. said that U300 sales could total $1 billion by 2018.
For people with diabetes, it can be tough to know what to make of these numbers. For better or worse, pharmaceutical companies aren’t nonprofits. They’re out to make money, and one way that can be done is by pursuing improvements to existing drugs. Not every therapy can be a breakthrough blockbuster, and the development of truly new drugs can be a breathtakingly expensive and time-consuming process.
If a slightly better insulin helps people with diabetes lower their blood sugars safely, who can argue with that?