Sanofi Dumps Inhaled Insulin After Poor Sales

Analysts hear death knell for Afrezza

French drug maker Sanofi has decided to pull the plug on an inhalable insulin developed by Mannkind following disappointing sales since the product’s launch in February 2015, according to a Reuters report. The rights to Afrezza (insulin human) inhaled powder will revert to Mannkind within the next three to six months.

Afrezza, which is delivered via a whistle-sized inhaler, acts more rapidly than insulin injections made by Sanofi or its rivals, such as Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk, but it also has risks. The product can cause acute bronchospasm in patients with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The FDA required that Afrezza be marketed with a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS) to inform health care providers about the following concerns:

  • The risk of acute bronchospasm in patients with chronic lung disease
  • Its contraindication in patients with chronic lung disease, such as asthma or COPD
  • The need to evaluate all patients for lung disease before starting Afrezza

Afrezza was developed in the shadow of another failed inhaled insulin, Exubera (Pfizer), which was approved in 2006 but eventually withdrawn because of poor sales.

Given Afrezza’s lackluster performance, Sanofi’s decision to dump the product came as no surprise to many analysts. “We can’t imagine that another legitimate diabetes company would show serious interest in this asset,” JP Morgan analysts said in a note.

Sources: Reuters; January 5, 2016; and Afrezza; 2015.