Healthy Returns: Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk are competing to develop more convenient weekly insulins

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A patient injects herself with an insulin pen.
Guido Krzikowski | Bloomberg | Getty Images

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Good afternoon! The rivalry between Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk extends beyond a buzzy class of weight loss and diabetes drugs called GLP-1s. 

The two drugmakers are also competing to develop once-weekly insulin injections

Those shots could provide a longer-lasting and more convenient option than daily insulin and other common treatments for managing diabetes. 

Patients with Type 1 diabetes require insulin every day. Meanwhile, roughly a third of people with Type 2 diabetes need insulin injections to keep their blood sugar within a healthy range, according to some estimates. But some resist or delay treatment due to inconvenience and pain, among other reasons, which could worsen their long-term health.

A successful weekly injection is also crucial to Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk maintaining dominance in the insulin market. Together, Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and French drugmaker Sanofi make up roughly 90% of the insulin market in the U.S., and have faced political pressure to make these life-sustaining diabetes treatments more affordable.

The race to develop less frequent insulin heated up on Thursday after Eli Lilly released positive initial data from two late-stage clinical trials on its weekly injection, called efsitora, in patients with Type 2 diabetes. The company is also studying the experimental drug in patients with Type 1 diabetes. 

Efsitora is Eli Lilly’s answer to Novo Nordisk’s experimental weekly insulin injection, icodec

In a note Friday, TD Cowen analyst Steve Scala said the new data on Eli Lilly’s efsitora looks “competitive” but “slightly inferior” to Novo Nordisk’s icodec when comparing across clinical trials. He added that Eli Lilly’s injection is one to two years behind Novo Nordisk’s. 

Icodec was recently recommended for approval in Europe. An advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration is also meeting on Friday to discuss Novo Nordisk’s application for approval in the U.S.

An employee checks insulin vials at US pharmaceutical company Lilly’s factory in Fegersheim, eastern France.
Patrick Hertzog | Afp | Getty Images

Let’s dive into Eli Lilly’s new data. 

The pharmaceutical giant said efsitora was just as effective at controlling blood sugar in adults with Type 2 diabetes as commonly used daily insulin injections in two trials. 

In one trial, called QWINT-2, Eli Lilly compared its insulin to a daily injection called insulin degludec. Novo Nordisk sells that product under the brand name Tresiba

The patients in the trial were using insulin for the first time and some of them were also taking a GLP-1 drug. 

At the end of 52 weeks, patients on efsitora saw a reduction of 1.34% in their A1C – a marker of blood sugar levels over three months – compared with a 1.26% reduction for insulin degludec. Eli Lilly added that its injection was as effective in lowering A1C levels as the daily insulin, regardless of whether patients were taking a GLP-1 in the study. 

The second study, called QWINT-4, compared Eli Lilly’s efsitora to a daily injection called insulin glargine. Eli Lilly, Sanofi and other drugmakers sell that treatment under different brand names. 

The trial studied efsitora in a group of diabetes patients who previously received multiple daily insulin injections. After 26 weeks, both Eli Lilly’s new weekly injection and insulin glargine reduced A1C levels by 1.07%.

Eli Lilly said efsitora was “safe and well-tolerated” by patients in both studies. The company will present full data from the QWINT-2 trial at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes in September. Eli Lilly also expects initial results from three other late-stage studies later this year. 

We’ll be watching to see what that data looks like. 

Feel free to send any tips, suggestions, story ideas and data to Annika at annikakim.constantino@nbcuni.com.

Latest in health-care technology

Uber announces new features for caregivers

Uber signs are seen August 20, 2020 at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California.
Robyn Beck | AFP | Getty Images

Uber has recently announced a new feature that will make it easier for users to support their loved ones. 

The feature, called Uber Caregiver, will allow individuals to add their caregivers directly to their profiles starting this summer. By doing so, caregivers can book rides for the people they support and order medical supplies, meals and groceries on their behalf.

Swathi Bhat, head of product at Uber Health, said the company knows it’s not just doctors and nurses who provide care to others. In fact, she noted that nearly 25% of Americans identify as caregivers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“Caring for an aging loved one can often be financially, mentally and time intensive. That’s why this summer, we’re launching Uber Caregiver,” Bhat said at Uber’s annual Go-Get product showcase in New York City last week. 

Uber Caregiver marks an expansion of Uber’s existing health-care offerings. Bhat’s team helps health-care providers and insurance companies arrange for patient rides, as well as the delivery of prescriptions, groceries and other over-the-counter items through the Uber Health dashboard.  

But by bringing many of these features directly to caregivers’ fingertips, it will be easier for regular people to help coordinate care, Bhat said. 

Uber defined a caregiver as any trusted person over the age of 18. The feature will allow for three-way chats between drivers, riders and caregivers.

Additionally, Uber said the user’s insurance benefits can be applied when applicable to help minimize out-of-pocket costs. Uber Caregiver will initially support Medicaid recipients, customers who are 65 and older with Medicare Advantage, and users with commercial insurance from their employers.

Caregivers can sign up to be notified when other insurance providers are supported by the feature.

Feel free to send any tips, suggestions, story ideas and data to Ashley at ashley.capoot@nbcuni.com.

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