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AstraZeneca bullish on diabetes franchise fortunes

Other big pharma firms face a difficult 2015, but AZ is confident it won't

Chris Boulton 

Challenges in the diabetes market have been greatly exaggerated, according to AstraZeneca as the firm says it has no concerns over stalling growth from its portfolio of medicines. 

Chris Boulton (pictured), director of marketing at AstraZeneca, told PMLiVE at this week's Diabetes UK conference that his firm's future growth from diabetes is not under threat. 

“We are very confident,” he said. “So you just need to look at the patient numbers: the compound annual growth rate with type 2 diabetes patients is about 3% year-on-year, and that growth has been consistent, and we anticipate these numbers going forward.”

But this is a troubling time for many in the industry as sales of diabetes drugs from a number of big pharma firms slumped unexpectedly last year.

Sanofi, the biggest player in the area, has said that sales of diabetes therapies “will likely not grow in 2015” because of mounting price competition in the US, with the French firm being forced to cut prices for its best-selling product, the Lantus insulin, which makes around $8bn a year. 

Novo Nordisk, the world's biggest insulin maker and a firm focused solely on diabetes, has also been hit, and has also seen sales drop in the past year. Bayer is in addition said to be considering ditching its entire diabetes business, with much of its products are monitoring devices. 

Fabian Wenner, an analyst at Kepler Cheuvreux in Zurich, said after Sanofi's financial were published that: “People are getting a bit more wary about the whole diabetes space with regards to price increases of the new products, but also price decreases of the existing ones.”

But AZ's Boulton said despite analysts' concerns, the sheer level of the disease and its long-term impact on healthcare means that products for diabetes will only grow in the future. The firm is also not seeking to compete on insulin, but rather oral antidiabetics, which have more space for growth and innovation. 

He explained: “Diabetes is a ticking time bomb and we anticipate a doubling of rates of type 2 diabetes over the next 15 years. But then of course, those patients who are being identified and treated are not always having their disease adequately controlled.

“So the only conclusion to make is that people want more treatments. The challenge of course is whether healthcare systems can afford that, but we absolutely believe there is a need for more treatments.

“And of course even with the drugs we have, they don't yet all meet the needs in glucose management, weight and so on - and there will be more and more innovations needed to try and address that.”

Strong growth

AZ's diabetes portfolio includes several big drugs for type 2 diabetes, and it recently expanded its efforts in the area with a deal with Bristol-Myers Squibb, so the firm must continue to keep the faith in the franchise. 

Both AZ and BMS had been involved in a diabetes alliance since 2007 and have developed the DPP-4 inhibitor Onglyza (saxagliptin), the saxagliptin/metformin combination product Kombiglyze and the SGLT2 inhibitor Forxiga (dapagliflozin), all of which have received approvals in various parts of the world.

This was then expanded in 2012 when the alliance acquired Amylin, gaining the rights to a portfolio of products for type 2 diabetes, including the exenatide franchise (Byetta and Bydureon).

However, the alliance drew to a close at the beginning of February last year with AZ completing its purchase of all BMS assets in the partnership for an initial fee of $2.7bn, potentially increasing by a further $1.4bn.

In fact its diabetes unit jumped 139% for 2014 - thanks to the BMS franchise buyout and a strong showing from its now wholly-owned products, with Onglyza sales growing to $820m. Revenue from this is expected to reach $3bn by the end of the decade. 

Boulton added that diabetes was one of the core areas that allowed the firm to repel Pfizer's failed $118bn takeover bid last May, and it is what will “help allow the company to remain independent” in the future. 

Article by
Ben Adams

12th March 2015

From: Sales

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