- The Washington Times - Monday, March 4, 2019

A top drugmaker said Monday it will offer a generic version of insulin that is half the price of its own brand-name product.

Eli Lilly, an Indiana-based company, said it was offering a cheaper version of Humalog, which currently costs $275 a vial, because it recognizes that diabetics are struggling to afford medicine they need to regulate their blood sugar.

“We’re eager to bring forward a low-priced, rapid-acting insulin,” said Eli Lilly Chairman and CEO David A. Ricks. “The significant rebates we pay on insulins do not directly benefit all patients. This needs to change.”

The move comes after lawmakers on Capitol Hill started an investigation into pharmaceutical companies’ drug pricing, particularly their decisions on insulin, a life-saving treatment for diabetics.

Eli Lilly’s new product will be called Insulin Lispro and come with a list price of just over $137 for one vial.

Some advocates said the company isn’t going far enough.

“Clearly, the insulin cartel is feeling pressure after years of price gouging a lifesaving drug. But charging nearly $140 for a vial of insulin — a drug that was invented almost a century ago — is still too high,” said Ben Wakana, executive director of Patients for Affordable Drugs.

Reaction was also mixed on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado Democrat, said she was glad to see one insulin maker craft a cheaper option, “but we still have a long way to go to ensure this vital drug is truly affordable for the millions of Americans who need it every day to survive.”

Likewise, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley tweeted he was happy about Eli Lilly’s announcement but that it’s only one piece of a complex puzzle of insulin pricing.

Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the committee, was more blunt, tweeting “there will be a lot of PR acrobatics about generic insulin” and that he will not stop investigating why companies keep raising the price of “a decades-old drug.”

Roughly 30 million Americans grapple with diabetes with 1.5 million newly diagnosed each year, the committee said.

Yet many patients say the rising price of the drug is putting it out of reach, forcing them to dangerously curtail their doses.

Lawmakers are outraged that the price of a drug discovered more than a century ago is rising at a rate that’s much faster than rate of new diabetes diagnoses. They say that undercuts Big Pharma’s typical defense that higher prices are needed to recoup money spent on costly research and development.

President Trump says slashing drug prices one of his signature initiatives.

His Health and Human Services secretary, Alex M. Azar II, served as a top executive at Eli Lilly before joining the administration. He is pushing a plan to pass drug rebates directly to consumers in Medicare, so companies don’t strike Byzantine arrangements with go-betweens that can drive up list prices.

“There are numerous ideas, including the rebate reform proposal from HHS,” Mr. Ricks said. “For people with diabetes, a lower-priced insulin can serve as a bridge that addresses gaps in the system until a more sustainable model is achieved.”

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