I Think This Next-Generation Diabetes Drug Offers the Greatest Growth Potential

By Markets Fool.com

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Source: Flickr userMelissa Wiese.

One of the world's great challenges over the coming decade will be treating an ever-increasing population of people diagnosed with diabetes. The number of people diagnosed with diabetes globally is expected to climb from 366 million people in 2011 to more than 552 million by 2030. That surge in patients will create significant opportunities for many healthcare companies, including these three that our Motley Fool analysts believe will benefit from developing next-generation treatments.

Todd Campbell: Novo Nordisk may not be as well known as some of the other big pharma companies, but it's a global diabetes powerhouse.

Novo's 47% insulin market share in the U.S. means that its among the best suited to benefit from rising demand tied to an ever-increasing population of diabetics. Novo's dominance in the indication also means that it's at the forefront of developing innovative new diabetes therapies, including oral insulin, which could eliminate the need for insulin injections for millions of patients.

So far, developing oral insulin has proved elusive. Proteins like insulin are typically broken down by digestive enzymes when they're swallowed, and getting the right dose (and maintaining the correct levels for the right amount of time) into the bloodstream has been too difficult a challenge to overcome. However, Novo has two proof-of-concept phase 1 trials under way, and if those early stage studies ultimately succeed, the company could have an oral insulin on the market in as little as a decade. If so, oral insulin could prove to be worth billions of dollars in sales to investors per year.

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LeoSun: A notable "next-gen" class of drugs for type 2 diabetics known as SGLT2 (sodium-glucose co-transporter 2) inhibitors prevent glucose from being reabsorbed by the kidneys, allowing more of it to be excreted through the urine. Clinical trials have found that SGLT2 inhibitors can improve glycemic control and weight loss in diabetics.

NotableSGLT2inhibitorsincludeJohnson & Johnson's Invokana, which the FDA approved last March, andAstraZeneca's Farxiga, which was approved in January of last year. AstraZeneca originally co-developed and co-marketed Farxiga (along with several other diabetes drugs) withBristol-Myers Squibb but bought out Bristol's stake in the diabetes joint venture for over $4 billion in February.

Neither J&J nor AstraZeneca has disclosed exact sales figures for their SGLT2 inhibitors, but analysts expect both new drugs to eventually hit peak sales between $650 million to $1 billion.

Reaching $1 billion in sales wouldn't matter hugely to J&J and AstraZeneca, which respectively reported revenues of $71.3 billion and $25.7 billion last year. Nonetheless, Invokana enhances J&J's fledgling diabetes business, which also includes itsAnimasVibeinsulin pump and One Touch VerioSync glucometers. Meanwhile, Farxiga complements AstraZeneca's other new diabetes drugs such as Byetta/Bydureon, which help type 2 diabetics naturally produce more insulin.

: Todd's and Leo's ideas are good ones, but I've got a company that's so next-generation that it could be last-generation.

As in the company, Perle Biosciences, is seeking tocurediabetes.

Perle is gearing up for phase 3 trials testing PRL001, a two-drug cocktail that's designed to promote regeneration of patients' cells that produce insulin and also decrease the likelihood that the cells will be attacked by the patient's immune system, which is what causes type 1 diabetes. The primary endpoint of the trial is insulin independence, about as close to a cure as it gets.

The start-up also has a second drug PRL002 that Perle believes is more potent than PRL001, which could be in the clinic in 2016.

Unfortunately, you can't currently buy shares in the company, because it's still a privately held.

Still, investors in companies that market insulin drugs -- both meal-time and long-acting insulins -- should keep an eye on Perle. If it's successful, sales of some megablockbuster drugs could be knocked down considerably, although not completely eliminated; they'd still be able to treat patients with type 2 diabetes, which is formed under a different mechanism and probably not treatable with PRL001/PRL002.

The article I Think This Next-Generation Diabetes Drug Offers the Greatest Growth Potential originally appeared on Fool.com.

Brian Orelli, Leo Sun, and Todd Campbell have no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Johnson & Johnson. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.