Surge expected for diabetes drug market

Diabetes drug spending to jump 70 percent through 2009: Medco report.

By Aaron Smith, staff writer

NEW YORK ( -- America's "epidemic of diabetes" could cause spending on drugs for that disease to soar up to 70 percent through 2009, according to the drug benefit manager Medco Health Solutions Inc.

Medco, in its annual Drug Trend Report, said that an aging population and a rising incidence of obesity is fueling the spending surge.

Barbara Ryan, analyst for Deutsche Bank North America, and Les Funtleyder, analyst for Miller Tabak, said newly launched drugs were helping to fuel the growth of the market.

Ryan estimated the non-insulin oral diabetes drug market at $8.4 billion last year, a figure she said could jump 50 percent by the end of the decade. Ryan said better diagnosis will fuel spending on diabetes treatment.

More than 20 million Americans have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association, and an estimated one-third of them have not been diagnosed and do not know they have the disease. The most common type of diabetes, type 2, occurs in adults, often as the result of obesity, resulting in the physician term "diabesity." Type 1, a more serious form of diabetes, typically emerges in children and young adults.

The newest drugs in this market include Merck's (up $0.07 to $52.76, Charts, Fortune 500) Januvia, as well as Byetta from Eli Lilly & Co (down $0.13 to $58.98, Charts, Fortune 500). of Indianapolis, and Amylin Pharmaceuticals (up $0.04 to $42.61, Charts) of San Diego. Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., praised Januvia for driving its first-quarter earnings, and Miller Tabak's Funtleyer estimated annual sales will peak at $1.7 billion in 2012.

But not all diabetes treatments are success stories. Pfizer's (down $0.01 to $27.31, Charts, Fortune 500) Exubera, the first form of insulin to be inhaled instead of injected, has had such a lackluster market debut that the New York-based company doesn't even break out sales in its earnings report.

The fate has yet to be determined for another potential drug - rimonabant from the French drug giant Sanofi-Aventis (down $0.45 to $46.13, Charts) - that has been eyed for diabetes but is being considered specifically as a weight loss drug. Advisers to the Food and Drug Administration will meet on June 13 to vote on whether the drug merits approval, and this non-binding vote will be considered by FDA regulators when they decide whether to approve the drug.

With all these new drugs, treatment for diabetes is stymied by the same problem facing cancer patients: the lack of a cure.

"There's still no magic bullet for the disease, for type 1 and type 2," said Funtleyder. "There's no cure." Top of page