Lilly and BI launch insulin biosimilar in the UK

A new cheaper biosimilar version of Sanofi’s Lantus (insulin glargine) has been launched in the UK today, and is likely to dent sales of the blockbuster product.

Lilly and Boehringer Ingelheim’s (BI) Abasaglar is the first biosimilar version of the top-selling insulin analogue to hit western European markets, and could eventually take a sizeable market share.

However any mass ‘switching’ of patients over to the new product is unlikely, and England’s cost and clinical effectiveness body NICE won’t be producing a technology appraisal on the product. A NICE ‘evidence summary: new medicine’ in September/October is expected to include Abasaglar, but these updates don’t have the status of formal guidance to the NHS.

Abasaglar has been priced at a 15 per cent discount to Lantus – a significant amount, but not the huge saving seen when generics of small molecule drugs are launched.

Abasaglar is priced at £35.28 for both its 100unit/ml 3ml x 5 cartridges and a 100unit/ml 3ml ‘KwikPen’, while Lantus costs £41.50 for 100unit/ml 3ml x 5 cartridges.

This level of discount is typical among biosimilar products, which are well established in Europe, but have been much delayed in the US until now.

For Lilly and BI, Abasaglar is an important addition to their existing portfolios in type 1 and type 2 diabetes products, helping them compete in a growing, but hotly contested, market.

A spokesperson for Lilly was keen to emphasise the company’s heritage and expertise in diabetes care. She said Lilly and BI’s first priority was to “match the medicine to the specific need in a patient’s treatment journey.”

Lilly says healthcare professionals should have the freedom to choose existing products or biosimilar versions. There is sparse UK national guidance on this issue, and its use is likely to be decided locally by England’s 211 frontline Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).

The company also said it ‘felt strongly’ that there should be no substitution of originator for biosimilar products at the pharmacy level, a practice seen in some other European countries, aimed at maximising health system savings.

The spokesperson noted: “We are aware of the expectation by over-stretched health systems, such as the NHS, for biosimilars to offer a cost efficiency versus the original reference molecule.”

Sanofi has just launched Toujeo in the UK, a next-generation version of Lantus which can claim fewer night-time hypogylacaemia events than the original version. Sanofi has priced Toujeo at the same price as Lantus, but analysts are doubtful its benefits will be enough to convince doctors and patients to win it market share.

Sanofi’s sales of Lantus declined 5.4 per cent in the first half of 2015, though this was purely due to cost pressure in the US market. The company says Lantus revenues in Western Europe rose 6.1 per cent to €230 million, driven by double-digit growth in France and Germany. However this growth could be hit too when Abasaglar and other biosimilars reach these markets.

Lilly and BI are among a number of research-based companies who are now launching biosimilar products – others include Novartis’ Sandoz division and Hospira, newly acquired by Pfizer.

Earlier this year Reuters cited forecasts from Citigroup analyst Andrew Baum that biosimilars would help transfer at least $110 billion of value from innovator companies to copycat producers between 2015 and 2025.

Baum estimated this would result in $50 billion in savings for healthcare systems.

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Sanofi launches Toujeo at Lantus price in UK

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