Bristol: Rebuilding a Diabetes Franchise--with Insulin
The great remaining religious divide in the drug industry is between those who reject and those who accept the fundamental therapeutic and economic importance of large molecule drugs. Diabetes is the central holy site in the schism since, for the most part, companies have either made small-molecule, oral therapies, or they've made injectable insulin. Bristol-Myers' deals for sustained-release insulin (with Flamel) and inhaled insulin (with QDose) mark both Bristol's increasing embrace of the large-molecule world as well as a novel strategy in the diabetes world.
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Many start-ups are developing diabetes drugs based on known targets which could attract Big Pharma partners and get to the clinic quickly, while a few invest in novel compounds that are either riskier or address the field's smaller subsets. Among the former are Phenomix, Plexxikon, CareX and Prosidion; among the latter are DiaKine, and DiaMedica. In all cases, these companies are looking to partner with Big Pharma, which is aggressively pursuing small-molecule drugs for diabetes.
Roche's October 2003 in-licensing of Ipsen's Phase I GLP-1 analog buys the Swiss group an initial stake in the fast-growing diabetes market. Most established diabetes players already have a compound in this class, but the partners hope that Ipsen's expertise in peptide delivery will set this program apart from competitors'. As the second licensing agreement between Roche and Ipsen in less than a year, the deal further validates Ipsen's pipeline, and suggests that Roche's carefully-managed partnership strategy continues to encourage repeat business.
Resurrections are an old biotech story. Now it's Amylin's happy duty to play the leading role--thanks to a product surprise. Its best known product, Symlin, delayed in the clinic, looks to be a smaller market product for diabetes than AC2993, which could compete with oral medicines. Lilly's signed up for a major deal on the product when its own competitive program failed. The deal itself gets Amylin a true partner's interest in the development and commercial prospects for the drug, but includes some interesting convertibility features that put Amylin at some risk if it doesn't perform.