The change comes on the heels of hearings in Congress where insulin costs were held up for scrutiny.
Eli Lilly, under fire for soaring insulin prices, today announced it will introduce an “authorized generic” version of Humalog (insulin lispro), its fast-acting insulin that people with diabetes use to control blood glucose spikes that occur with meals.
The Indianapolis-based drug manufacturer said the price of the new generic will be $137.35 per vial, or 50% of the cost of the branded version. A 5-pack of Kwik pens will be $265.20, with both manufactured in the same facilities as the Humalog branded products through a subsidiary, ImClone Systems. Lilly said in a statement it would work with partners across the supply chain to get the generics to consumers as quickly as possible.
“We’ve engaged in discussions about the price of insulin with many different stakeholders in America’s healthcare system: people living with diabetes, caregivers, advocacy groups, healthcare professionals, payers, wholesalers, lawmakers and leading healthcare scholars,” said David A. Ricks, Lilly’s chairman and chief executive officer. “Solutions that lower the cost of insulin at the pharmacy have been introduced in recent months, but more people need help.”
As Congress and President Donald Trump have vowed to crack down on the rising cost of prescription drugs, insulin has been singled out as the poster child for what’s wrong with the drug pricing system: patients with type 1 diabetes (T1D) need the hormone to live, and yet many are rationing it because of rising prices. Insulin manufacturers insist the problem lies with pharmacy benefit managers and the system of rebates that forces ever-higher list prices to ensure that their insulin stays on insurer formularies, and pharmaceutical companies say that payer net prices have actually gone down.
But that’s little comfort to those without insurance, including some young adults with T1D who face difficult choices once they are too old to stay on their parents’ health plans. Reports of more incidents of diabetic ketoacidosis and even deaths have fueled bipartisan anger on Capitol Hill.
Both last week’s hearing in the Senate Finance committee and a January hearing in the House Oversight committee gave insulin costs special scrutiny; House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, cited a Yale study that found patients with diabetes are using less insulin than prescribed because they cannot afford it.
The list price for Humalog has climbed from about $21 per vial in 1996 to about $275 today. People who use it typically need about 2 vials per month. People who use fast-acting insulin often use a long-acting or basal insulin as well.
In its statement, Lilly said offering Insulin Lispro while keeping Humalog available will allow “payers time to renegotiate downstream contracts adjust to new system economics.”
The shift is just one of several steps that have occurred as insulin manufacturers have drawn fire for rising costs for a product first used to treat a patient in 1922, although it has undergone new formulations and improvements in recent decades as analog insulins were introduced. Manufacturers have made older human insulins available, and a recent study in JAMA showed that a Medicare Advantage plan switched some patients back to these insulins without significant increases in glycated hemoglobin.
Lilly also produced Basaglar with Boehringer Ingelheim, a follow-on to Lantus (insulin glargine), the popular basal insulin from Sanofi. In its statement, Lilly said that the introduction of this product in December 2016 brought the net price per prescription of basal insulins down 30%. Sanofi countered by launching a follow-on of insulin lispro, called Admelog.
“While this is a step in the right direction, all of us in the healthcare community must do more to fix the problem of high out-of-pocket costs for Americans living with chronic conditions,” Ricks said.