Liraglutide Gains Momentum as Others Struggle in Obesity

Now in the second year since approval of liraglutide for treating obesity, a pattern is becoming clear. While other obesity drugs struggle, liraglutide gains momentum.

Saxenda Total Rx VolumeThe momentum is evident in growing prescriptions for Saxenda (the brand name for liraglutide sold by Novo Nordisk at the dose for obesity). For the second quarter of 2016, total prescriptions for Saxenda grew more than 27% versus the prior quarter. At this point, the sales revenue for Saxenda exceeds the sales for Contrave which had previously been the top-selling anti-obesity drug. Prescribing for Contrave dropped slightly in the second quarter.

But what makes Saxenda even more interesting is how it fits into a much larger story of convergence between diabetes and obesity. Business analysts have begun describing Novo Nordisk’s primary business as “diabetes and obesity care.” By contrast, eight years ago another leading diabetes care company – Sanofi – walked away from investing in obesity care. And recently, Sanofi has been losing ground to Novo Nordisk in the diabetes market.

Most impressive, though, is the commitment to build upon Saxenda as an initial entry in obesity care. With four new drugs in clinical development for obesity and more in a pre-clinical stage, it’s evident that Novo Nordisk is serious about its commitment to build a long-term portfolio in obesity care.

That commitment will surely be tested. Even though Saxenda is faring well compared to competitors, it’s far from becoming a blockbuster. If you want an idea of what it takes to build a market for an untreated condition like obesity, just take a look at high cholesterol.

Scientists recognized the need for treating high cholesterol back in the 1960s. A few drugs (cholestyramine, clofibrate, and nicotinic acid) with limited effectiveness and tolerability came to market in those early days. Finally, in 1987, lovastatin was approved as the first in the statin class of drugs for treating high cholesterol.

But it took another decade and huge survival studies to move physicians away from relying mostly on inadequate dietary measures for treating high cholesterol. Now, 50 years after the need was identified, statins are the largest selling class of drugs on the planet.

We cannot wait for decades to develop and deliver better care for obesity. The scientists and innovators already committed to this task are bringing hope for faster progress.

Click here for more from Seeking Alpha and here for more on the history of statins.

Momentum, photograph © Pulpolux !!! / flickr

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July 11, 2016