Pharmaceutical omega-3 products are important but will grow more slowly than some expect because of the long timeframe for drug approval, says the chief of the Global Organisation for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED).
GOED executive director Adam Ismail told us the sector was, “growing in importance” but noted there are only three approved omega-3 drugs on the global market. GlaxoSmithKline’s blockbuster but coming-off-patent Lovaza/Omacore is the most prominent in a pharma market estimated at about €2bn, compared to more than €20bn for foods and supplements.
“Pharmaceuticals are about treating disease conditions and in some countries the dosages required to do so exceed the amount of EPA and DHA you can put into supplements,” Ismail told us.
“It is growing in importance, but somewhat slowly because each individual product in that market has to be approved. There are more than 36 EPA or DHA-based pharmaceutical products in the pipeline right now, but only three have been approved in the world and they mainly treat the same condition, severe hypertriglyceridemia.”
He said there remained a place in the market high and lower dose omega-3 products, which would undoubtedly lead to more pharma products and not necessarily from ‘big pharma’.
“Our goal is to make sure that every person is taking the right appropriate amount of omega-3s for their needs, and some people just require pharmaceuticals to do that,” he observed.
“As these pipeline products are approved for other conditions, we will see this space grow in importance, and there will likely be a lot of merger and acquisition activity since none of the big-name pharmaceutical companies are driving this investment.”
Omega-3 drug potential
Omega-3 drugs had the potential to offer safe alternatives in certain health areas, Ismail speculated.
“There is an opportunity to look at whether pharmaceuticals based on omega-3s achieve similar goals as other pharmaceuticals, but with a better safety profile. This is difficult in the pharmaceutical environment where products are often rewarded for being first to the game because it becomes unethical to take patients off a treatment that is saving their life to test the efficacy of another treatment.”
“This may be the case in cardiovascular disease, where early trials on omega-3s found big reductions in mortality in patients with cardiovascular disease but later studies have not found as much of a benefit.”
“In these later studies the patients are on greatly expanded pharmaceutical regimens. If adding these pharmaceuticals reduces the impact of omega-3s, then you have to wonder if omega-3s provide the same impact as the pharmaceuticals and if so, which regimen is safer?”