UK-based group Merck, Sharpe & Dohme’s Januvia – the first in a new class of DPP-4 inhibitors to be licensed in the UK for the treatment of type 2 diabetes - has been honoured with the 2007 award for Best Pharmaceutical Agent at the Prix Galien USA Awards.

Originally set up in 1969 by French pharmacist Roland Mehl, the internationally recognised Prix Galien awards are designed to recognise outstanding achievement in the development of new medicines, and are considered the highest accolade for pharmaceutical R&D.

Januvia (sitagliptin), which was launched in the UK in April this year, beat off stiff competition from 19 other compounds battling for gold. The drug represents the first in a new approach to the treatment of diabetes that focuses on enhancing the body's own ability to keep blood sugar levels balanced.

It works by enhancing pancreatic islet cell function, a fundamental defect in type 2 diabetes, to promote insulin secretion by the pancreas and inhibit glucagon production, the latter resulting in reduced glucose production by the liver.

Need for innovative treatment

There is an urgent need for new approaches and novel treatments to help battle the disease. As the group points out, despite current therapies available on the market, around two-thirds of adults with type 2 diabetes in the UK are still not managing to control their blood sugar levels.

And aside from the obvious detriment to a patient’s health, inadequate control of blood sugar presents a substantial economic burden too; it is estimated that diabetes costs the National Health Service an incredible £150,000 every hour, with the majority of this spent on treating complications of the disease.

“There is a strong need for innovative therapies to help in the ongoing battle against the growing diabetes epidemic,” stressed Professor Kamlesh Khunti, a GP and Professor of Primary Care Diabetes and Vascular Medicine at the University of Leicester. “Sitagliptin offers a completely novel and additional approach to help manage people with type 2 diabetes and this award reflects this contribution to medicine,” he added.

New pact for diabetes services

Meanwhile, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain and the National Pharmacy Association have linked hands to support the integration of community pharmacy into local diabetes care pathways.

The aim of this is to set up community pharmacy services that help patients better manage their condition and, in particular, get the most out value out of their medicines.

The groups plan to launch a tool to help pharmacists and local primary care organisations implement diabetes services early next year.