Will J&J Strike Sweet Success With This New Drug?

Johnson and Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) is using an innovative strategy to remove the excess sugar from the bodies of diabetic patients before it rises to dangerous levels, and with the prevalence of diabetes in the U.S., the company stands to make a fortune on the new drug.

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J&J’s (NYSE:JNJ) canagliflozin enables the discharge of excess sugar, created by an abnormality relating to insulin, through the patient’s urine once it has been filtered by the kidneys and before it re-enters the patient’s circulation. The drug may reach pharmacies by next year. J&J is expected to present trial data at a meeting of the American Diabetes Association this weekend. It filed last week for regulatory permissions to sell the drug in the U.S.

According to Laurence Kennedy, specialist at Cleveland Clinic at Ohio, the novel therapy “is a beautiful example” of treating diabetes by managing blood sugar levels differently. A note of caution, however, is sounded by Adrian Vella, endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester: “Using a side effect of uncontrolled diabetes as a primary mode of treatment is unconventional, to say the least — we still need to understand how severe and how frequent the potential side effects associated with these medications are.”

Side effects apprehended include damage to kidneys, and fungal and bacterial genital infections in women due to the preponderance of glucose in the urinary tract. Patients also need to go to the bathroom much more frequently, which can be difficult for the elderly or immobile diabetes sufferers.

Note also that Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (NYSE:BMY) and London-based AstraZeneca Plc (NYSE:AZN) have been down this path before with their drug Dapagliflozin, which works similarly to J&J’s canagliflozin, but could not secure FDA approval because of concerns regarding bladder and breast cancer. Fortunately, Larry Biegelsen, an analyst at Wells Fargo Securities in New York, wrote in a note to investors May 31 that data shows no sign of cancer with use of the J&J drug.

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