HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Saturday, April 30, 2005

New Diabetes Drug from Poisonous Lizard

The New York Times reports on a new diabetes drug derived from a poisonous lizard (click on NYT link to see photo) that received Food and Drug Administration approval. 

The drug, called Byetta, will be the first in a new class of drugs to reach the market for Type 2 diabetes, the form that usually occurs in adults. Studies have shown it can help control blood sugar and also help people lose a few pounds. The drawback for patients is that the drug must be injected twice a day and nearly half the people who use it suffer nausea, at least initially. . . .

Byetta is a synthetic version of a peptide, or small protein, found in what has been variously described as the saliva or the venom of the Gila monster, a poisonous lizard that lives in the Southwest and Mexico.

The discovery was made in the early 1990's by Dr. John Eng, a researcher at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in the Bronx, who was working on a way to discover new hormones. He realized the Gila monster hormone was similar to glucagon-like peptide 1, an incretin hormone produced in the human digestive tract.

The Department of Veterans Affairs declined to patent the substance, saying it was not directly relevant to veterans, so Dr. Eng patented it by himself. He then tried in vain to license it to a drug company before finding Amylin. Amylin in turn licensed rights to Lilly in 2002 for payments that could eventually reach $325 million. Both companies plan to sell the drug in the United States and split the profits evenly.


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