Researchers are announcing that Victoza, a diabetes drug sold by Danish drug giant Novo Nordisk , prevents heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular deaths.
It is only the second diabetes drug ever to do so. The first, Jardiance, a pill sold by Eli Lilly LLY -0.91% and Boehringer Ingelheim , presented its positive results just last year. Researchers say that the new results could change the way that doctors treat diabetes, shifting the treatments doctors reach for after metformin, the tried-and-true first-line drug, which is generic. “There’s a building momentum that maybe we do need to rethink the way diabetes is cared for in America,” says John Buse, theUniversity of North Carolina, Chapel Hill researcher who led the study, which was funded by Novo Nordisk.
And doctors and Novo Nordisk itself give credit to the new diabetes data to a surprising source: Tougher regulations for diabetes drugs from the Food and Drug Administration, which many in industry had previously decried, saying it was keeping new drugs from the market and hurting patients. “I can almost guarantee you that these trials would not have been done if it had not been for the FDA regulations,” says Buse, who has been a consultant to many companies for years. “Before the guidance I was constantly pushing on companies to do these trials.”
That fact–that companies and patients are likely to benefit from the FDA’s toughness–goes against one of the common narratives in the drug industry and among the FDA’s critics: that high regulations slow patients’ access. In some cases, it’s clear, they also create a bar for industry to leap over, and deliver billions of dollars in spoils to companies that actually manage to help patients, not just blood test results.
The Victoza result is exactly the kind of marketing claim that makes a drug company salivate: Novo Nordisk can now tell patients and their insurers that the alternative to its drug is an earlier death.
In the study, presented this evening at the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Associationand published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 9,340 patients were randomly assigned to receive either Victoza or placebo for a median of 3.8 years. For those on Victoza, 13% had a heart attack, stroke or death, compared to 14.9% on placebo, a 13% decrease in risk. Reductions in cardiovascular death (22%) and death from any cause (15%) were also statistically significant. A supposed side effect of the drug, pancreatitis, did not show up at all, and patients on Victoza lost 2.3 kilograms (about 5 pounds) more than those on placebo.