Drug maker Novo Nordisk is testing high doses of its type 2 diabetes drug Victoza as a possible treatment for obesity. However, analysts are questioning whether it will work well enough to be a commercial success.
Victoza was initially marketed by Novo Nordisk using celebrity chef Paula Deen. The company quickly discontinued the contract with Deen after the Southern chef was heavily criticized for making racist remarks.
The drug is in a class of medications known as glucagon-like peptide 1 dugs, or GLP-1. Other drugs in this group include Byetta, made by Bristol-Myers Squibb and AstraZeneca. GLP-1 drugs are in a class of drugs known as incretin mimetics, which improve blood sugar control by mimicking the action of the hormone glucagon-like peptide 1. Among other things, these drugs allow insulin, which lowers blood sugar, to work more effectively.
GLP-1 drugs have been associated with side effects including vomiting and nausea, and also appear to suppress appetite. The drugs delay the movement of food from the stomach to the small intestines, which may make users feel fuller long, so they eat less. However, no GLP-1 drugs are approved for weight loss. They are only approved for the treatment of type 2 diabetes.
Another side effect of GLP-1 drugs Victoza and Byetta is an increased risk of serious and painful inflammation of the pancreas known as acute pancreatitis. The drug has also been associated with pancreatic cancer. This was found in patients using the therapeutic dosage of these drugs.
Novo Nordisk is testing Victoza at much larger doses in clinical trials with obese people to see if the drug will help patients dramatically lose weight. There is no word yet whether these patients are at greater risk of pancreas problems.