Drug maker Eli Lilly and Company has announced it will market a generic version of its fast-acting insulin Humalog. To be labeled Insulin Lispro, this generic insulin will cost 50% less than the list price of their brand name product. It will be available both in vial and pen forms for subcutaneous (under the skin) injection. Insulin Lispro will available as an authorized generic from ImClone Systems, a subsidiary of Eli Lilly. It will be made of the same molecule as the branded product. Humalog is a rapid acting insulin that diabetics use to help process sugar in their blood. The original branded product will remain on the market at regular price.
High cost of insulin
The high cost of insulin has been in the news regularly and even a subject for Congressional hearings. More than 1.25 million people in the United States have Type 1 diabetes. They require the administration of insulin to live. The drug has been around for 100 years, yet the price of Humalog has increased by over 1200% since it first came to market in 1996.2 The cost then was $21 a vial; the price today approaches $300. Another way to look at the cost is that if Humalog had merely increased from its initial $21 by the rate of inflation over time, its price now would be around $33.
The price of Insulin Lispro will be $137.35 for a single vial and $265.20 for a five-pack of KwikPens.1,2,4 Although it will cost half of Humalog’s retail price, for many with diabetes, it may still be unaffordable.
The role of health insurance
Actual out of pocket costs paid for Humalog vary based on whether there is health insurance coverage and if so, what kind. There are rebates and discounts available through many plans that help to make insulin more affordable. An Eli Lilly spokesman says the lower priced generic should benefit people without health insurance, those who have high deductible plans, and those who do not have good prescription drug benefits.
There has been praise for the new generic insulin and the news from Lilly is that they are addressing market needs by bridging the gap to affordable medication and lower health care costs.1,2,3 Detractors suggest that insulin shouldn’t cost so much. For a medication that has been around for so long, the prices have increased disproportionately to the manufacturing costs.4 Some suggest that keeping Humalog, the brand name product on the market, Lilly will be able to continue to charge the high prices for insulin, like their competitors.
A 2016 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the cost of insulin had nearly tripled over a period of 11 years from 2002 to 2013; it has gone up since then.3 The next question will be whether other makers of insulin such as Novo Nordisk and Sanofi will also come out with less expensive, generic versions of their insulin.4 Around the world the prices are lower, ranging from $20 a vial in Japan to $31 in Canada, with other countries fluctuating in that range.2 The vast price differential may be due in part to a more complex regulatory environment in the United States that affects drug costs to consumers.
Lilly to Introduce Lower-Priced Insulin. Available at: https://investor.lilly.com/news-releases/news-release-details/lilly-introduce-lower-priced-insulin. Accessed 3.8.19
Ramsey, L. A drugmaker just slashed the price of its life-saving medication by 50%, but people are worried the $137 price tag is stil unaffordable. Available at: https://www.businessinsider.com/lillys-50-price-cut-to-insulin-humalog-is-still-unaffordable-2019-3. Accessed 3.8.19.
Lazarus, D. Lilly unveils a ‘generic’ insulin and shows how broken our healthcare system. Available at: https://www.latimes.com/business/lazarus/la-fi-lazarus-healthcare-lilly-insulin-prices-20190308-story.html. Accessed 3.8.19
Medelman, M. Amid uproar over high drug prices, Eli Lilly introduces generic insulin at half price of brand-name Humalog. Available at: https://www.cnn.com/2019/03/04/health/insulin-price-humalog-generic-eli-lilly-bn/index.html?utm_source=fbCNN&utm_term=link&utm_medium=social&utm_content=2019-0304T19%3A04%3A25&fbclid=IwAR38OUYLfxB_p6ZsNBpzbMonU4P4vYRyUHkLrDy7adNgVgCNxnIbvH6PZl8. Accessed 3.8.19.