AstraZeneca Aims for Wider Heart Prevention With Diabetes Drug

(Bloomberg) -- AstraZeneca Plc is aiming for wider use of its Farxiga diabetes drug as a study showed that it staved off lethal heart disease in a broad variety of patients.

Patients who got the drug as part of their type 2 diabetes treatment had a 17 percent lower risk of cardiac death or hospitalization for heart failure than those who got standard treatment, according to details of the company’s study released Saturday at a conference in Chicago. Farxiga worked as well in patients who had already suffered heart attacks and strokes as in those at reduced risk of heart disease.

One of Astra’s top-selling new drugs, Farxiga is competing with diabetes medications from Eli Lilly & Co., Johnson & Johnson and Novo Nordisk A/S that also lower patients’ vulnerability to cardiac illness. Showing that it can help cut the chances of heart failure and death in people at lower risk may give Farxiga a leg up against rivals.

“These are the kinds of patients that primary-care physicians are seeing every day,” said Elizabeth Bjork, Astra’s head of global medicines development, in a telephone interview. “This should really open up usage in a broad population.”

About 415 million people worldwide have diabetes, which occurs when the body loses the ability to control blood sugar, and prevalence is rising. While appropriate diet, exercise and the use of insulin and other drugs can lower the risk of these complications in the eye, kidneys, nerves and heart, Farxiga and Lilly’s Jardiance offer a higher level of protection against heart disease.

Heart Attacks

In some cases, the drugs are replacing decades-old medications that, while protective against some diabetes complications, have been shown to increase the frequency of heart attacks and deaths. Heart failure poses a serious danger to people with diabetes, and about half those hospitalized for the condition die within five years, said Danilo Verge, an executive in Astra’s cardiovascular and metabolic disease business.

“Those are numbers like the worst cancers,” he said in an interview. “The fact that we can show an effect across the population is a huge win.”

Other diabetes drugs including Lilly’s Trulicity and Novo’s Victoza have each shown in trials that they reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiac deaths. While those occurred less often among patients getting Farxiga than in the standard treatment group, the difference wasn’t great enough to determine that the drug had an impact.

Rare side effects that occur more often with Farxiga include fungal infections and severely low blood sugars, but both are known and treatable, Bjork said.

More than 17,000 patients at hospitals and clinics in 33 countries were followed for an average of about four years in the study. Astra released the study’s top-line results in September.

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