Diabetes is running at record levels worldwide and half the people estimated to have the disease are, as yet, undiagnosed, according to a report.
Report by Reuters
The number of people living with diabetes is now put at 371 million, up from 366 million a year ago, with numbers expected to reach 552 million by 2030, the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) said.
Diabetes is often viewed as a Western problem, since the vast majority of people have type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity and lack of exercise.
But the disease is also spreading rapidly in poorer countries, alongside urbanisation, and four out of five diabetics now live in low and middle-income countries, opening up new opportunities and challenges for the drug industry.
China alone has 92,3 million people with diabetes, more than any other nation in the world, and the hidden burden is also enormous in sub-Saharan Africa where limited healthcare means less than a fifth of cases get diagnosed. The IDF estimates that, globally, 187 million people do not yet know they are suffering from the condition.
For the international drugmakers, diabetes offers riches, with global sales of diabetes medicines expected to reach US$48-US$53 billion by 2016, up from US$39,2 billion in 2011, according to research firm IMS Health.
Tapping into the potential of increased demand in emerging markets, however, requires a twin-track approach from drug companies which have traditionally focused on pricey new therapies for rich-world markets.
These days, there is a lot more focus on high-volume but lower-margin business in developing economies, many of which are predicted to show high double-digit percentage sales growth for diabetes medicines for years to come. The shift is already yielding results. China, for example, is now the second-largest market behind the United States for the world’s biggest maker of insulin — Danish group Novo Nordisk.
It is also a major focus for rivals such as Eli Lilly, Merck & Co and Sanofi.
Poorer countries are more difficult, especially when it comes to insulin, which must be kept cool if it is not to deteriorate. While most patients start on cheap generic diabetes pills, such as metformin, many need insulin as their disease progresses.