(Bloomberg) — A tiny, matchstick-size pump, which could be implanted for up to a year in diabetics, is showing promise as a replacement for self-administered shots.
Intarcia Therapeutics Inc., backed by venture-capital firms including New Enterprise Associates Inc. and Venrock, developed the device. It continuously delivers a diabetes drug known as a GLP-1 receptor agonist, currently marketed as an injection.
Patients with type 2 diabetes who used the pump along with standard oral drugs for 39 weeks saw their blood glucose levels and weight decline in a final-stage study presented last week at the American Diabetes Association’s annual conference.
Chief Executive Officer Kurt Graves is betting that by reliably delivering a full dose of the drug, the pump could help Boston-based Intarcia take market share from AstraZeneca P.L.C. (NYSE:AZN), Novo Nordisk A/S (NYSE:NVO) and Eli Lilly & Co.’s (NYSE:LLY) shots, since patients often struggle to keep up self-injections.
While the potential is great, multiyear data is needed to ensure the safety of the pump, said Robert Ratner, chief scientific and medical officer of the American Diabetes Association.
Graves also plans to undercut the pharmaceutical giants on price. Before insurance kicks in, the list price of GLP-1 injections is about $6,000 a year, according to the American Diabetes Association. Newer oral medications like Merck & Co.’s Januvia list at about $3,500 a year.
“If you’re injection-free, and you show you’re superior, do you have the ability to not price yourself out of the market?” Graves said. “That’s what will make it disruptive.”
Injections are mostly used by diabetics who can’t control their blood sugar with just a pill. In addition to going after that market of self-injectors, Intarcia is also aiming for patients who take pills but might consider an implant to ward off the need for injections in the future.
Intarcia stands out in the biotech field because it hasn’t gone public or formed an alliance with a large pharmaceutical company, even though it’s running four final-stage trials covering 5,000 patients.
Graves, 46, has instead chosen to rely on venture-capital backing and $225 million in convertible notes issued in April. The financing assumed an equity valuation of $5.5 billion after U.S. regulatory approval of the pump.
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There were about 29 million Americans age 20 or older with diabetes in 2012, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the total has been rising quickly as obesity rates increase and the population ages.