BioPharma, Policy

Lilly’s lower-cost insulin Humalog still too expensive, senator says

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, was also among four signatories to a letter to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb calling on the agency to speed up approvals of generic versions of insulin products.

Drugmaker Eli Lilly & Co.’s decision to offer an off-brand version of its top-selling insulin product got a chilly reception from a Democratic member of the Senate.

In a statement Monday, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip, pointed out that the price of Humalog (insulin lispro) in Canada is only $38, while it can cost up to $329 in the US. “Now, Eli Lilly is lowering the price in the US for selected customers to $140,” he said. “Charging Americans four times what Canadians pay for the same drug hardly merits an outpouring of national gratitude to Eli Lilly.”

The Indianapolis-based drugmaker said Monday that it would begin selling the lower-priced version of Humalog, under its generic name, at a list price 50 percent lower than that of the branded version. The cheaper insulin will sell for $137.35 per vial or $265.20 per five-pen pack. But that is still far above the cost of the drug when it was introduced in 1996, adjusted for inflation. Skyrocketing prices have been blamed for leading Type 1 diabetes patients to ration insulin, a potentially deadly practice.

Durbin was one of the senators who signed a letter on Friday to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb urging the agency to speed up approvals of generic insulin products. In particular, the senators said the agency should amend a biosimilars guidance it issued in December that they said poses unreasonable delays for approvals of competitors to commercially available insulin products.

“Under your leadership, FDA has taken important strides to help patients by speeding approval of generics – including a record-setting amount in 2018,” the senators wrote. “On behalf of the millions of Americans who rely on insulin every single day, we urge you to promptly reconsider these policies so that lower-cost competitor insulin products can come to market sooner.”

The other signatories were Sens. Tina Smith, D-Minnesota; Kevin Cramer, R-North Dakota; and Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana.

The letter noted that in addition to the large price increase for Humalog, Sanofi’s Lantus (insulin glargine) has increased in price from $35 per vial in 2001 to $270 today, while Novo Nordisk’s Novolog (insulin aspart) went from $40 in 2001 to $289.

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