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Attack on 'diabesity'
Sanofi-Aventis pill could lower blood sugar, trim fat and reduce weight.
June 12, 2005: 6:29 PM EDT
By Aaron Smith, CNN/Money staff writer
The next crisis
Diabetes is one of the fastest growing diseases in the United States -- and costs are mounting.
Facts
Americans with diabetes18.2 million
New diagnoses each year1.3 million
Cost to U.S economy (including treatment; work loss; disability)$132 billion
Worldwide diabetes drug sales$12 billion
Source:National Institutes of Health

SAN DIEGO (CNN/Money) - A new drug from Sanofi-Aventis is a weight loss pill and a diabetes treatment at the same time, and could treat millions of Americans if approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Separate studies have shown the drug may be effective at helping smokers quit the habit.

The drug, Acomplia, has demonstrated multiple uses in treating and preventing type 2 diabetes, including helping weight loss, reducing blood sugar levels and trimming fat, said Dr. Andre Scheen, medical professor and head of the diabetes division at the University of Liege in Belgium. Scheen was the principal investigator in the study but is otherwise "independent" of Sanofi-Aventis, according to Scheen.

Scheen was at the American Diabetes Association annual conference in San Diego this weekend.

Diabetics often suffer high blood pressure because they have difficulty producing their own insulin, which converts blood sugar into energy.

According to Scheen, Sanofi-Aventis's (Research) drug not only lowered blood sugar in late-stage clinical tests, but also reduced two of the leading risks to diabetics: obesity and fat cells.

Combining weight loss and blood sugar control could be beneficial to diabetics, who often suffer from obesity, giving rise to the industry term "diabesity."

Some analysts consider Acomplia a potential blockbuster. Analyst Gbola Amusa with Bernstein projected 4.2 billion euros in annual sales and an 80 percent chance of FDA approval. "It's that high because [obesity] is a vast market with unmet medical needs," said Amusa.

A Sanofi-Aventis spokesperson would not provide sales projections for Acomplia and would not comment on the FDA approval process.

Acomplia acts in the brain, where it blocks hunger-inducing receptors, and in fat tissue, where it increases cytokine, a protein that is often lacking in obese people.

When people don't have enough cytokine, it interferes with their insulin levels and increases their chances of developing type 2 diabetes.

In the same way that Acomplia can help reduce hunger, Sanofi-Aventis says, it may also be effective in reducing cravings for cigarettes.

"The two leading preventable causes of mortality are cigarette smoking and abdominal obesity and we hit both," said Dr. Douglas Greene, vice president of regulatory development at Sanofi.

More than 90 percent of the 18.2 million diabetics in America have type 2 diabetes, which usually develops among aging, overweight adults.

Acomplia is in the last stages of testing and a new drug application was recently filed with the FDA. The most common side effects of the drug are nausea and vomiting, which tended to disappear after a few weeks, according to an ADA report.

More on which drug companies stand to benefit from diabetes treatments.

Merck and Bristol-Myers bet on dual-use diabetes drug  Top of page

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