Xeris' glucagon injection Gvoke gains heat with HypoPen auto-injector launch

Diabetes patients have long relied on complex glucagon kits to treat hypoglycemia. Late last summer, Xeris Pharmaceuticals aimed to change that with the first FDA-approved prefilled syringe. Now, its new auto-injector is grabbing the baton.

In July, Xeris launched its Gvoke HypoPen for severe hypoglycemia in children and adults. Pre-mixed and ready-to-use, Gvoke HypoPen allows patients to inject glucagon by themselves, and quickly, unlike Gvoke prefilled syringes, which require help from someone else. That's a potential boon now, during the COVID crisis, when face-to-face interactions are on the downswing.

Plus, in late-stage studies, HypoPen proved easy to administer, with 99% of subjects correctly using the device to restore their blood sugar levels. Hypoglycemia can land patients in the hospital if not treated promptly.

Now, thanks to some clever digital footwork with the pandemic-era launch, early adoption has soared. A little over a month into the launch, Gvoke HypoPen mopped up more than 60% of new Gvoke prescriptions, with odds high that the auto-injector could eventually corner 70% to 80%, leaving its prefilled-syringe predecessor in the dust, Jefferies analysts said. HypoPen is now patients' best glucagon option, the analysts said, likening the device to Epipen, the ubiquitous epinephrine auto-injector for severe allergic reactions.

Overall Gvoke scripts grew a record 40%, with second-quarter sales hitting $2 million. The back-to-school season, when parents buy glucagon kits for school nurses and for kids to carry in their backpacks, could bring a bigger boost in the third quarter, the analysts noted.

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Ahead of HypoPen's launch, Xeris pivoted salesforce promotions to doctors from live to virtual and tapped social media to get the word out to patients. Physicians have grown more receptive to virtual sales calls during the pandemic, the analysts noted, and Xeris' online patient hubs offer help gaining insurance coverage and prior authorization if needed. 

Plus, Xeris is offering copay assistance that can cut HypoPen's cost to $0 for patients on some insurance plans. And the company has already struck coverage agreements with most insurers, CEO Paul Edick said in a release.  

"[A]s we prepared for launch, we had a heightened focus on ensuring Gvoke HypoPen is covered by insurance," Edick said. "Currently, approximately 78% of commercially insured and Medicare lives have unrestricted access to Gvoke HypoPen.”

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Xeris isn't alone in the market for new glucagon formulations, though. A little less than a year before Xeris' HypoPen launch, Eli Lilly debuted the first non-injectable glucagon option when it snagged a green light for Baqsimi nasal powder. The company has since tapped American Idol alumna Crystal Bowersox in a diabetes awareness campaign that directs patients to Baqsimi resources.