Lilly, Boehringer amp up fight against Lantus with U.K. biosim launch

It's happened: Eli Lilly & Co. ($LLY) and Boehringer Ingelheim have rolled out their biosimilar version of Lantus in its first major market. The U.K. launch follows some smaller rollouts in Eastern Europe--and it's the next move in a planned worldwide assault on the Sanofi diabetes stalwart.

Called Abasaglar, the biosimilar drug carries a price of £35.28 per pack of five 100-unit injector pens or cartridges, PMLiVE reports. That compares with £41.50 for five Lantus cartridges, a Lilly spokeswoman told the pub--a 15% discount.

Sanofi has been bracing for the biosim rollout, scrambling to move Lantus patients to its next-generation basal insulin Toujeo in hopes of getting ahead of the competition. But so far, Sanofi has kept the list price of Toujeo on par with Lantus. The new drug launched in the U.K. earlier this month.

Sanofi has said that its Toujeo pricing has been designed to remove cost from the equation when it comes to switching Lantus patients over. The French drugmaker says Toujeo offers some clear advantages over its predecessor--less risk of nighttime hypoglycemia, for instance, as well as less-frequent dosing. But now that Abasaglar has hit the scene, Sanofi may have to rethink Toujeo's price tag.

Of course, Lilly and Boehringer will have to persuade doctors that their biosimilar can slide right into Lantus' place when it comes to patient care. That's been a tricky proposition for currently marketed biosimilars such as Hospira ($HSP) and Celltrion's Remicade copycats--at least in some markets. Norway has gone so far as to launch its own head-to-head study pitting the brand against its biosimilar to prove to doctors that the less expensive knockoff is a ready substitute.

Biosimilar drugmakers have also discounted the products more aggressively than previously expected to win over customers. And the biosims are catching on, too; Merck & Co. cited the competition as one reason its Remicade sales faltered in the second quarter.

There's no way to know yet whether Lantus copies will follow in the footsteps of Remicade biosims. Lilly and Boehringer may be able to make inroads on a 15%-to-brand discount. Then again, they may take a more aggressive approach--and Sanofi ($SNY) may have to fight back with its own cut-rate pricing. Novo Nordisk ($NVO), whose Levemir also competes in the space, could find itself contending with a price war, too. And then there's another Lantus biosimilar coming up through the pipeline from Merck ($MRK) and Samsung Bioepis; it's in late-stage development.

Pharma watchers and payers will be keeping a close eye on the Abasaglar-vs.-Lantus market battle as it progresses in the U.K.--and spreads across Europe--looking for hints at how Abasaglar's eventual U.S. launch might play out. Lilly and Boehringer have already scored tentative FDA approval for the product, under the Basaglar name. But for now, the partners are jousting with Sanofi in patent court, eyeing a U.S. launch sometime next year. And in the meantime, Sanofi appears to be keeping Toujeo's price level with Lantus, despite analysts' advice to the contrary.

- see the PMLiVE story

Special Report: The top 10 patent losses of 2015 - Lantus | The 10 best-selling drugs of 2013 - Lantus

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