Insulin Prices Are Way Too High

Manufacturers Would Still Make a Good Profit If Costs Are Cut, Study Says

More fuel to the growing fire of controversy over the cost of diabetes medications. A study in BMJ Global Health says that the prices currently charged for insulin in the United States and other countries are way too high and that they could be cut and the manufacturers would still make a good profit. STAT reached out to one of those manufacturers, Sanofi, and reports this morning that a company spokeswoman said Sanofi shares the concerns about the price of diabetes medications, but she cites the limitations of the BMJ Global Health study, “including a large number of assumptions which makes it challenging to draw any conclusions.” The study didn’t individually consider biosimilar manufacturing expenses, such as what it costs to adhere to regulations. It also didn’t consider capital expenditures, and quality assurance costs, the Sanofi spokeswoman said.

The study authors counter that they made conservative assumptions about what it costs to bring a biosimilar to market. Andrew Hill, a study co-author, tells STAT that “pharmaceutical companies cannot justify” what they charge economically strong companies, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, for insulin “let alone similar amounts in low- and middle-income countries.”

Pharma companies charge $1,251 per patient per year in the U.S. for insulin, and they’re able to do so because of a lack of competition, the study states. In a more competitive market, it would be possible for drug makers to produce human insulin at $48 to $71 a year per patient, and analog insulins at $78 to $133 per year per patient.

STAT: “Put another way, the study estimated the cost of production for a vial of human insulin is between $2.28 and $3.42, while the production cost for a vial of most analog insulins is between $3.69 and $6.16….”

The study states that to cut insulin prices “multiple competitors would likely need to enter the market. Production costs are only one element and, as with HIV/AIDS, an important step will be political recognition that diabetes can benefit from large, international treatment expansion plans, as well as regulatory coordination and market shaping.”

Sources: BMJ Global Health, September 25, 2018; STAT, September 25, 2018