BioPharma, Pharma

Novo Nordisk Follows Eli Lilly’s Lead, Lowering Insulin Prices up to 75%

Novo Nordisk can afford the price cuts prices to several branded and non-branded insulins. Flattening revenue for the pharmaceutical giant’s insulin products is offset by demand for diabetes and obesity drugs from its semaglutide franchise, which continues to grow by leaps and bounds.

Novo Nordisk is slashing prices of several insulin products by up to 75% amid growing political scrutiny on the prices of these older but still expensive diabetes medicines. The announcement Tuesday comes two weeks after rival Eli Lilly unveiled price cuts for its insulin products, but unlike Lilly’s new pricing, which will start this spring for some products, Novo Nordisk’s new insulin prices won’t take effect until 2024.

The Novo Nordisk products covered under the new list prices include the long-acting insulins Levemir and Novolin, which will see 65% price cuts. Levemir will cost $107.85 per vial and $161.77 for product dosed with the FlexPen delivery system. Novolin will cost $48.20 per vial and $91.09 per FlexPen. The fast-acting insulin products Novolog and Novolog Mix 70/30 will see 75% price cuts to $72.34 per vial, $139.71 per FlexPen.

Denmark-based Novo Nordisk, which maintains a U.S. headquarters in Plainsboro, New Jersey, also said it will reduce the list price for unbranded biologics to match the lower price of the corresponding branded insulin. Unbranded biologics are the branded product marketed under a different name. The lower prices cover Insulin Aspart, which is the unbranded biologic of Novolog, and Insulin Aspart Protamine/Insulin Aspart, which is unbranded Novolog Mix 70/30.

Novo Nordisk can afford to cut insulin prices because it is seeing rapid growth from other products. While the company’s insulins are blockbuster sellers, their sales growth has flattened. The company reported 38.7 billion Danish krone (about $5.6 billion) in 2022 revenue for all of its insulin products, down nearly 3% from the prior year and just 1% higher compared to two years ago. Meanwhile, the drugmaker is seeing strong sales growth from diabetes and obesity medications in its semaglutide franchise. Ozempic, a type 2 diabetes drug that works by activating the GLP-1 receptor, is far and away Novo Nordisk’s largest single product with 17.3 billion Danish krone (about $2.5 billion) in 2022 sales, up more than 96% from the prior year.

Rybelsus, a GLP-1-targeting drug that like Ozempic, contains semaglutide but in an oral formulation, posted 3.1 billion Danish krone (about $455 million) in sales last year, a more than 500% increase over 2021 sales. In January, the FDA expanded Rybelsus’s approval to include first-line treatment of type 2 diabetes. Permitting the drug for use as an earlier treatment further expands the market for the product. Novo Nordisk is seeing strong demand for the semaglutide-containing weight-loss drug Wegovy, which won its FDA approval in mid-2021. Demand for Wegovy and Ozempic for use in treating obesity has strained the company’s manufacturing capacity, leading to shortages.

The insulin market is dominated by three companies: Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi. Since Eli Lilly’s announcement at the beginning of March that it would cut list prices for its insulin products by up to 70%, some lawmakers have been calling on Novo Nordisk and Sanofi to do the same.

A $35 per month price cap on insulin went into effect at the beginning of this year, but only for Medicare beneficiaries. That price cap was one of the provisions of the wide-ranging Inflation Reduction Act. Lilly’s pricing announcement extended the monthly cap to all insured diabetes patients who take the pharmaceutical company’s insulins. Those who aren’t covered by health insurance may enroll in a program that makes all of Lilly’s insulins available for $35 a month.

Novo Nordisk said that it currently offers co-pay savings cards for patients covered by commercial insurance plans. These cards enable eligible patients to pay monthly co-pays of $25 to $35 for several of the company’s insulin products. In its announcement, Novo Nordisk said it has been working to identify “a sustainable approach to reduce insulin costs for patients that addresses changes in health policy and market shifts.”

“We have been working to develop a sustainable path forward that balances patient affordability, market dynamics, and evolving policy changes,” Steve Albers, Novo Nordisk’s senior vice president of market Access and public affairs, said in a prepared statement. “Novo Nordisk remains committed to ensuring patients living with diabetes can afford our insulins, a responsibility we take seriously.”

Photo by Jean-Francois Monier/AFP, via Getty Images