Lilly to insulin pricing critics: Check out our 50%-off Humalog copy instead

Eli Lilly
Eli Lilly launched its cheaper Humalog generic in an attempt to provide insulin to patients in danger of being priced out of the market. (Eli Lilly)

With Congress railing against rising list prices for insulin, Eli Lilly made a commitment to introduce a cheaper generic version of its Humalog in a show of good faith. Consider that a promise kept.

Lilly has rolled out its Lispro injection, a copy that's 50% cheaper than branded Humalog with a list price of $137.35 per vial or $265.20 for a five-pack of pens, the company said.

"The availability of (the generic) is important progress that helps more people afford their insulin," Mike Mason, Lilly’s senior vice president of connected care and insulins, said in a statement."Lilly will continue to work with health plans, wholesalers, employers and the government to work toward permanent solutions that will help every person with diabetes afford their medicines."

Lilly’s move follows a series of hearings on Capitol Hill targeting Big Pharma and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) for the rising cost of insulin that legislators said has created an affordability crisis for patients.

In April, members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce were long on accusations and short on solutions for reining in insulin prices after drugmakers and PBMs offered competing reasons the drug’s list price has crept up over time.

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Lilly is one of a trio of diabetes drugmakers specifically targeted by legislators for insulin prices alongside Sanofi and Novo Nordisk. During a Senate Finance Committee hearing on drug pricing in January—which executives from Lilly did not attend—lawmakers specifically targeted Humalog’s list price as an example of routine price hikes that limit patient access.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, pointed to Humalog’s price jump from $21 a vial in 1996 to $275 in January, saying the drug “isn’t 13 times as effective as it used to be.”

But what appear to be big gains for pharma actually underscore the industry’s difficulty turning a profit in diabetes, as rebates to PBMs continue to grow and drug-pricing pressure increases.

RELATED: Sanofi plans sales layoffs—again—in primary care, diabetes  

In April, Sanofi announced a new round of layoffs beginning in June to its primary care and diabetes sales teams after its insulin product sales dropped 13.8% on the year in 2018. Sanofi said in February that it raised prices on 35 medicines last year but that its average net prices in the U.S. fell 8%. In all, the company paid out 55% of gross sales in the form of rebates, including $4.5 billion in mandated rebates to government payers and $7.3 billion in “discretionary rebates.” 

Lilly has experienced similar revenue pressure, reporting in 2018 that despite Humalog’s list price growing 52% over five years, the drug’s net price actually slipped 8%. The drugmaker responded with a restructuring of its own in 2017 that lopped off 3,500 jobs.