Last week, seven pharma executives participated in a Senate hearing on the issue of rising drug prices in the US.
While CEO of Eli Lilly, David Ricks, was not amongst the executives but the discussion of the pricing of insulin products did arise, with Sanofi’s CEO, Oliver Brandicourt, defending the price of its Lantus (insulin glargine) product.
Despite not being present, Lilly did still receive criticism during the same week on the Senate floor, as Dick Durbin, US Senator from Illinois, publically ‘awarded’ Lilly, alongside Novo Nordisk and Sanofi, the ‘Pharma Fleece Award’ for the 600% price increase of insulin over the past two decades.
“How is it that in the richest country on Earth, patients are having to ration their insulin, or start Go-Fund-Me websites, just to survive? Insulin was a cure found in the 20th Century that patients cannot afford in the 21st Century. Pharma’s war on American patients with diabetes must come to an end,” said Durbin.
Lilly introduces generic insulin
As the price of insulin become a major talking point for the pharma industry in the US, Eli Lilly announced that it would release a generic version of its Humalog (insulin lispro) product onto the US market.
Vials of the product will cost 50% less than the branded product, with the list price for a single vial being $137.35 (€121.40), and a pack of five KwikPens costing $265.20.
According to a statement by Lilly, the products are currently being manufactured and the company is now working with supply chain partners to make them available to pharmacies and patients.
“While this change is a step in the right direction, all of us in the health care community must do more to fix the problem of high out-of-pocket costs for Americans living with chronic conditions,” Ricks said. “We hope our announcement is a catalyst for positive change across the US health care system.”
The company maintained that plans to release the generic began last year, prior to the Senate committee hearing.
Lilly did not immediately respond to request for comment.
“The price of insulin is still too high”
In response to Lilly’s generic launch, Patients for Affordable Drugs’ executive director, Ben Wakana, released a statement suggesting that the generic price is not affordable.
“Clearly, the insulin cartel is feeling pressure after years of price gouging a lifesaving drug. But charging nearly $140 for a vial of insulin — a drug that was invented almost a century ago — is still too high,” said Wakana.
Wakana referenced the fact that Humalog has undergone a greater than 1,000% price increase over the last two decades as evidence that ‘systemic changes’ are needed.
Senator Durbin compared the price of Novo Nordisk’s Lantus, which costs $46 per vial in France and $67 in Canada, as evidence that the US is paying a disproportionate amount for the product.
Biosimilars on the horizon
One development that could potentially change the insulin market in the US is the launch of biosimilar competitor products.
From March 2020, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will regard insulin products as biologics, opening up a pathway for biosimilar competition.
Sandoz recently announced a partnership deal with the Chinese company, Gan & Lee, which sees the two partners readying biosimilar candidates for the FDA to review – with one compound in Phase III.