Early Januvia Sales

Early Januvia Sales

According to early reports Merck’s (NYSE:MRK) Januvia is off to a strong start based on new and total prescription volume. Januvia already accounts for 3.5% of new oral diabetes prescriptions in its fifth week since launch. Growth appears to be coming at the expense of glyburide/metformin combination. There are also reports from ImpactRx that showed last week Januvia captured 14% of new prescription for diabetes drugs, while Byetta captured 9% of new scripts over the same time frame.

Since Januvia’s approval back on October 17, shares of Merck have remained basically flat, while shares of Amylin (NASDAQ:AMLN) the makers of Byetta, have fallen almost 14%. It’s also worth noting over this same period that shares of GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK), makers of Avandia, are down almost 5%, while shares of Lilly (NYSE:LLY), Lilly markets Actos, are down slightly over 6%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up slightly over 2% over this period.

While it’s still early in the game this data is important for several reasons.

1. 1. Merck is desperate for a winner and is doing whatever they can to insure Januvia is a hit. The company received somewhat of a lucky break when Novartis (NYSE:NVS) received word from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that approval for their DPP-4 Galvus would be delayed. While Januvia and Galvus aren’t identical they are both from the same class of drugs and have produced similar results during clinical trials. It was widely expected that Galvus would come to market shortly after Januvia thus limiting Januvia’s first to market advantage. With the FDA delay Merck’s army of sales reps are making an all out effort to establish Januvia as THE DPP-4. There efforts may be premature as there are rumours swirling that FDA may take another look at Januvia. Strangely shares of Novartis are outperforming Merck since Januvia’s approval.
2. 2. Diabetic Investor believes the downward move in shares of Amylin is an over-reaction to Januvia’s presence in the market. It is true that both drugs are targeted at patients with type 2 diabetes however Januvia will likely impact sales of other type 2 oral medications more than Byetta, which is an injectable. The fact remains that Januvia is weight neutral while patients on Byetta experience significant weight loss. Investors should not underestimate the importance of Byetta’s weight loss results. It should also be noted that during clinical trials when used as a monotherapy Januvia produced only modest reductions in A1C, while patients using Byetta as a monotherapy have seen solid reductions in A1C. All in all Diabetic Investor believes both drugs can co-exist and do just fine.
3. 3. The people at Glaxo and Lilly are the two companies who should be more concerned with these early results. It is far easier for a physician to replace an existing oral therapy with another oral then it is to move a patient to Byetta. For some time the trend in treating type 2 diabetes has been combination therapy with patients taking two, sometimes three different oral medications. Januvia’s strongest selling point isn’t that it produces better outcomes than Avandia or Actos; rather it produces similar outcomes with fewer side effects. Given that nearly 80% of patients with diabetes are treated by a primary care physician, these physicians will pick the drug with fewer side effects.

As we said earlier these results are still early and things could change in a hurry should the FDA take another look at Januvia. Stay tuned.

David Kliff
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