Viatris launched 2 versions of its interchangeable insulin biosimilar. Why?

The pricetag for the unbranded version of Semglee is 65% cheaper than Lantus' list price, Viatris said. (Viatris)

It's official: Biocon and Viatris have launched their historic interchangeable insulin biosimilar, Semglee. The drug, which references Sanofi's blockbuster diabetes med Lantus, will roll out in a branded and unbranded format, and either version can be substituted for Sanofi's med at the pharmacy counter. 

The company is using an unusual pricing strategy in a bid to pick up market share.

The unbranded version, dubbed insulin glargine, carries a wholesale acquisition cost (WAC) of $147.98 for a package of five 3-ml pens, the company told Fierce Pharma over email. That price is 65% cheaper than Lantus' list price and marks the lowest WAC for any insulin glargine pen on the market to date, a company spokesperson added.

Brand-name Semglee, meanwhile, has a WAC of $404.04 per package of five 3-ml pens. That version comes in only slightly cheaper than Lantus, which carries a list price of $425.31 for five pens. 

By launching two versions of the same product, Viatris is effectively providing payers with the option to choose between a high price, high rebate product, or another that carries a lower price and features a lower rebate, Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal said over email.

Eli Lilly is already trying to work both segments of the diabetes market with its fast-acting insulins, Gal noted. It's "primarily the high-price/high-rebate product which is selling," he added. 

RELATED: Viatris, Biocon snare historic interchangeability tag in diabetes for Lantus biosimilar

Viatris launched a non-interchangeable Semglee in 2020 at a WAC price of $99, marking a steep discount off Lantus' WAC of $284. When Semglee snagged its historic interchangeability tag in July, however, Viatris ratcheted up the WAC 300% to $279. The price hike coincided with the conversations about the potential for an interchangeable biosim to save patients money. 

As for why the higher-priced Semglee seems to be winning out, pharma middlemen "do not like lower WAC and small rebates for products that already have high price and big rebate," Bernstein analysts wrote in a note to clients earlier this month. Viatris has made its drug more attractive to pharmacy benefit managers by setting a higher WAC and "discounting beyond Lantus to an even lower net" price, the team added. 

The coverage landscape has “forced” Viatris to launch both a high-priced and low-priced version of its product, Adam Fein, Ph.D., CEO of Drug Channels Institute, wrote last week. As a result, “many commercial payers will adopt the more expensive product instead of the identical—but cheaper—version,” Fein wrote.

Express Scripts’ largest commercial formulary will include just the high price, high rebate version of Semglee, while Prime Therapeutics will include both versions, Fein noted.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to attribute a quote to Bernstein and add comments from Drug Channel's Adam Fein.