Diabetes Drug Duel: Lilly & Amylin vs. Novo Nordisk

American Diabetes Association
American Diabetes Association

Here at Moscone Center in San Francisco it's all about phones--the iPhone event is in the West hall across the street--and pharma (the American Diabetes Association 68th Annual Scientific Sessions is here in the South hall.) Be sure and check out Jim Goldman's live blog on the iPhone event starting today around 1 pm EST.

We are covering the ADA meeting today and tomorrow because most of the major data came out over the weekend or is coming out later today. Or so we thought.

Novo Nordisk surprised the market with a press release saying its late-stage developmental drug is better than a similar one already on the market--Byetta from Eli Lilly and Amylin Pharmaceuticals .

The market downdraft was huge Friday, but AMLN shares plummeted around nine percent. NVO rallied two percent.

Byetta is a twice-a-day injectable. Novo's drug, liraglutide, is a one-a-day.

A Novo spokesman says the Danish company was burning the midnight oil trying to get the data cleaned in time to possibly get out a press release at ADA.

A competitor and at least one critic are calling out Novo since it's a press release and the data were not peer-reviewed for official presentation here at ADA. In other words, companies that want to unveil data at a prestigious scientific conference like this one have to get their studies to pass muster first with experts who decide which studies get in and how they'll be presented. There are different tiers of presentation methods, venues and forums at these things. It's a big deal.

The Novo spokesman says the company had a regulatory and fiduciary responsibility to get out the test results as soon as they were ready.

In a scathing note to subscribers David Kliff who writes a newsletter called "Diabetic Investor" says, "With their bush league tactics Novo was deliberately trying to control the news flow, damage Amylin’s share price and steal Amylin’s thunder." Kliff is a longtime AMLN/Byetta bull. He says he does not own any stocks of the companies he covers.

Amylin's thunder could be made at 9 pm ET tonight when it will release major longer-term test results on a once-a-week version of Byetta. At a meeting with analysts and investors here last night I'm told Amylin officials did not move up their timeline for filing for FDA approval of once-a-week Byetta. They're still saying it'll be by the end of the first half of next year. Some analysts were speculating LLY and AMLN would use the ADA venue to announce they're speeding things up.

These drugs called GLP-1s are being widely followed by investors because they not only help diabetics lower their blood sugar, but also lose weight. Many analysts expect the class (Roche is working on one, too) to become a multi-billion-dollar piece of the exploding diabetes market.

Amylin's CEO Dan Bradbury will be live with me for a First on CNBC interview tomorrow morning on "Squawk on the Street" between 9 and 11 am ET.

Questions? Comments? Pharma@cnbc.com