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Dual-use diabetes pill unveiled
Muraglitazar would lower blood sugar and cut heart disease risk; Merck and Bristol battling back.
June 13, 2005: 2:57 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) - Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb, both facing losses on two of their most profitable blockbusters, are partnering to try and launch a pill that has multiple uses in treating diabetes.

The new drug, Muraglitazar, has been shown to do two things: lower blood sugar in type 2 diabetics and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Based on a two-year study with nearly 1,000 participants, the findings were reported at the American Diabetes Association in San Diego on Sunday.

"Muraglitazar achieved these goals with only one pill a day, which makes it easier for people with type 2 diabetes to manage multiple health problems," said Dr. David Kendall, chief of clinical services at the International Diabetes Center and associate medical professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Kendall was a principal investigator in one of the trials, and is a consultant to Merck; he said he does not shares in Merck.

Type 2 is the most common kind of diabetes, affecting more than 90 percent of the 18.2 million diabetics in America, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Maintaining blood sugar level is one of the primary goals in diabetes treatment. Diabetics have trouble producing insulin, which converts blood sugar into energy.

Muraglitazar also may adjust levels of fats in the blood, which could reduce heart disease in type 2 diabetics.

Many drug analysts see diabetes treatment as a growing sector. Type 2 diabetes is often brought on by aging and obesity, and the growing population of baby boomers is expected to fuel the industry.

Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death in America , according to the National Institutes of Health, and every year another 1.3 million Americans are diagnosed.

Barbara Ryan of Deutsche Bank North America and some other analysts consider Muraglitazar to be a potential blockbuster. But Ryan in a recent interview said that Muraglitazar is "likely to face a tough challenge with the FDA" because there are "certain concerns about side effects."

In particular, clinical trials of Muraglitazar revealed edema, or swelling of the legs, in 5 percent to 8 percent of participants as well as weight gain of two to 10 pounds.

Bristol-Myers submitted Muraglitazar to the FDA in December 2004.

Ryan also said that the drug would face competition from Actos, a diabetes drug produced by Takeda Pharmaceuticals North America (Research) and Eli Lilly & Co. (Research)

Bristol-Myers (Research) is a New York City-based drug maker with $19.4 billion in 2004 sales. The company is trying to come with new products to replace the vacuum that will be left by Pravachol, a $2.6 billion cardiovascular drug, that is set lose its patent in 2006.

Merck (Research), a drug giant based in Whitehouse Station, N.J. with $22.9 billion in 2004 sales, is trying to get new products into the market to replace sales lost by Vioxx. Vioxx is an arthritis drug that the company pulled on Sept. 30, 2004 because of health concerns. Merck made $2.5 billion from Vioxx in 2003, its last full year on the market.

Spokespeople for Bristol and Merck would not give sales projections for Muraglitazar, and would not say whether sales would be sufficient to offset lost sales of other drugs.

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

Sanofi-Aventis tackles sugar levels and obesity.  Top of page

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