Lilly/BI biosimilar insulin glargine Abasaglar launched in UK – September 3, 2015

Lilly/BI launched Abasaglar, their biosimilar version of insulin glargine (Sanofi’s Lantus) in the UK last week. Abasaglar is the first biosimilar insulin to reach the market and the UK is the first significant European market in which it has been launched – the product launched in Japan in August and in Germany this month. Pricing for biosimilar products has been watched closely – in the UK, Abasaglar is priced at £0.12 ($0.18) per unit compared to £0.14 ($0.21) per unit for Lantus – a 15% discount. This pricing is in line with Sanofi’s statements during its 2Q15 update that early launches indicate Abasaglar is being priced at a 15%-20% discount and that it would be priced at a 15% differential in the UK specifically. While Lilly’s management has previously consistently stated that it plans to price the biosimilar as it would any new branded option, we’ve suspected that payers (especially cost-focused European payers) would push for greater discounts. That said, a 15% discount is significantly smaller than what many experts were predicting for a biosimilar, though that commentary may have been focused more specifically on the US market, where we anticipate the discounts could be steeper given the higher prices for branded basal insulin analogs. In the US, while the FDA has tentatively approved the biosimilar insulin glargine (branded Basaglar for the US market), full approval is on hold pending the outcome of Sanofi’s patent litigation (the trial is scheduled to begin September 28, 2015). Given increasing frustration with rising insulin costs, biosimilar insulin glargine may offer hope for a respite in the future – that said, Express Scripts’ 2014 Drug Trend Report suggested that the arrival of biosimilars on the market may not actually decrease diabetes spending due to physicians’ reluctance to switch patients who are doing well on the branded version.