The UK subsidiary of Germany’s Merck KGaA, Merck Pharmaceuticals, has launched a new sustained-release formulation of its widely used oral diabetes drug Glucophage (metformin) that is designed to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal side effects with the drug. This is the first European launch of the product, which is also available in the US as Glucophage XR.

Glucophage SR is a once-daily formulation for patients with Type 2 diabetes, the form that accounts for two-thirds of the UK’s 1.8 million diabetics, and is designed to reduce the gastrointestinal side effects that occur in over 10% of patients taking the immediate-release form. This should help improve patient compliance, according to Merck, as should its once-daily dosing; the immediate-release version requires dosing two or three times a day. It will be priced in the UK at £2.67 for a 28-tablet pack and £5.34 for 56 tablets, said a spokeswoman for the firm.

Glucophage has been Merck’s most important product over the last few years, but the immediate-release product is now facing sales erosion from generic competition in most markets where it is sold. The development of the new once-daily formulation should provide some measure of defence for Merck’s franchise, although generic companies are also mounting an assault on this product. Last year, Ivax launched a once-daily metformin product in the US, and this was joined by other generics mid-year [[12/01/04b]].