The world’s largest drugmakers recently received some good news. A new class of diabetes drugs was found not to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke – deadly side effects which have plagued some older diabetes treatments.
The results of two large studies, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, eased investor concerns over the class known as DPP-4 inhibitors; which includes Onglyza from Bristol-Myers Squibb and AstraZeneca; Nesina from Sanofi; and Januvia and Janumet from Merck. All of the drugs work by blocking the DPP-4 enzyme, which promotes the release of insulin, a protein that controls blood sugar levels. Drugs in the class had combined sales of $4.5 billion last year.
More than 350 million people worldwide are estimated to have diabetes, according to the World Health Organization. New treatments like the DPP-4 class of drugs have helped make diabetes treatments the fourth best-selling group of drugs, behind drugs for cancer, pain and high blood pressure. Since 2008, sales of diabetes medications have risen more than 56 percent to $42.4 billion. That’s more than twice as fast as the overall prescription drug market, which has grown 20 percent to $962 billion.