Novo Nordisk Sales Remain Strong, Even Amid Victoza Cancer Concerns

The drug maker Novo Nordisk indicates that their large profits this quarter are mainly due to strong sales for Victoza, a controversial diabetes drug that has been linked to concerns about a risk of cancer and calls for it to be removed from the market.

In an earnings report released on Friday, Novo Nordisk stated that profits jumped 26% in the second quarter of 2013 and 11% overall for the year so far.

Sales of of the blockbuster diabetes drug Victoza increased by 32% worldwide in the first half of 2013, despite emerging concerns earlier this year about a potential link between pancreatic cancer and Victoza, as well as other diabetes medications that are part of a new class of treatments known as incretin mimetics.

In March, the FDA announced that it was investigating a potential cancer risk with incretin mimetics, which also includes Byetta, Januvia, Janumet and other popular drugs. The review came after a study published this year identified pre-cancerous cellular changes in pancreatic tissue taken from individuals treated with incretin mimetic medications.

Although it has recently been reported that the FDA found no conclusive connection between the medications and pancreatic cancer, concerns continue among users and the medical community, as a number of studies have suggested that the medications may cause chronic pancreatitis, which could cause some users to ultimately develop pancreatic cancer.

Side effect of Victoza have also been linked to a potential risk of thyroid cancer, which was placed prominently on the drug’s warning label when the medication was approved.

In April 2012, the prominent consumer advocacy group Public Citizen filed a petition for the FDA to issue a Victoza recall, suggesting that the medication provides no benefits over other available diabetes treatments and should be removed from the market due to the health concerns.

Victoza (liraglutide) was introduced in 2010 as a daily injection treatment for type 2 diabetes. Byetta (exenatide) was the first member of this class approved by the FDA, introduced by Amylin Pharmaceuticals and Eli Lilly in 2005 as a twice daily injection. Januvia was introduced by Merck the following year as an oral medication, and a combination pill containing Januvia and metformin was introduced in 2007, under the brand name Janumet. 

The medications have quickly grown to become some of the top selling drugs for treatment of type 2 diabetes worldwide, generating billions in annual sales. Januvia and Janumet are among the best selling medications for the global pharmaceutical company Merck, generating over $4 billion in sales last year. Victoza sales were about $1.8 billion last year.

Amid concerns about the risk of pancreatic cancer, a number of Victoza lawsuits, Byetta lawsuits, Januvia lawsuits and Janumet lawsuits have been filed this year on behalf of diabetics who diagnosed with cancer after using the medications. Last month, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation heard oral arguments on a motion to consolidate and centralize the litigation involving all incretin mimetic medications before one judge for pretrial proceedings.

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