Indianapolis, IN — Responding to rampant criticism of rising drug prices, pharma giant Eli Lilly will begin selling an authorized generic of its preeminent insulin therapy, Humalog, at half-price. At the moment, multiple congressional inquiries into drug pricing are targeting not just the pharmaceutical industry in general but the diabetes space in particular. This first move by Lilly further establishes the brand as not just a leader in the space, but an exemplary one, recognizing many patients’ urgent need for more affordable insulin. Though, responses show, there may still be a ways to go. 

“While half-price is certainly an improvement, it’s still an unaffordable price for so many,” said Elizabeth Rowley, head of the diabetes advocacy group T1International. Half-price comes out to $137.35 per vial, and most Humalog patients require two vials per month. Especially to the uninsured, this sum can still be prohibitive. 

Soaring insulin costs have, in some instances, compelled patients to ration the drug, which can be deadly. Nicole Smith-Holt of Richfield, MN, lost her son, Alec, to diabetic ketoacidosis, because he couldn’t afford his insulin. “It shouldn’t have happened,” she says

Lilly’s authorized generic is called Insulin Lispro and will be sold by ImClone Systems, investor Carl Icahn’s biotech firm acquired by Lilly in 2008 for $6.5 billion. (At the time this was Lilly’s biggest buy ever. Earlier this year, Lilly acquired Loxo Oncology for $8 billion.) Authorized generics are identical to the reference drug but with a different label.

In general, it will be payers and employers who continue paying for brand-name Humalog, as some of them effectively earn discounts for buying on label. Patients paying out of pocket, who stand to benefit the most from Insulin Lispro, are likely to go for the authorized generic. 

Why This Matters

Outcry over skyrocketing costs may be reaching a breaking point, and authorized generics may constitute an at least partial solution. According to Stacie Dusetzina, Associate Professor of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University Medical School, authorized generics represent “a really great solution for patients who don’t have health insurance, or who are paying a deductible or coinsurance.”

This being the case, Enrique Conterno, president of Eli Lilly Diabetes, said that the company is considering creating authorized generics of other insulin products that they manufacture. But first, they want to assess how having Insulin Lispro on the market goes. “I’ll be honest,” said Conterno. “We are entering unusual territory.” 

About the Author:

Ben helps spark innovative healthcare thinking as Associate Director of Innovation. Previously on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair, he brings experience in engaging, rigorous storytelling to the healthcare world. Ben’s goals are to move brands to rethink their roles, own their evolving narratives, and maintain vital and vigorous consumer relationships.