When I read the other day that Eli Lilly was halting construction of a new insulin plant in Virginia, I didn't make that much of it. Another day, another dollar-based business decision, right? But it seems there are some strong currents running through the insulin market that will have tangible consequences for us folks who live on insulin, indeed.
Is Eli Lilly really distancing itself from its historical covenant with diabetes? This is the company credited with "transforming a fatal disease into a chronic illness," remember. Have a look at journalist and author Jim Hirsch's eloquent post on Eli Lilly losing the loyalty of one-time faithful customers. It seems the company has successfully alienated parents of children with Type 1 diabetes, clearly a bad move. Overall, they aren't seen as caring about patients, apparently; Hirsch notes that Denmark-based Novo Nordisk took the lead on that front, at least until recently.
Lilly is still making insulin, of course. They're introducing several new insulin pens this year, including the Memoir, "smart insulin pen" with a memory chip, which I wrote about a while back. But they've also discontinued Humulin Lente and Humulin UltraLente, which about 66,000 patients relied on, Hirsch notes. Unlike losing your favorite brand of shampoo, it's a major life change when your insulin of choice disappears. Ugh.
Meanwhile, there's lots of buzz about the delayed introduction of generic insulin. Could bring prices down, of course, but the thought of some no-name brand with no responsible company to call if something goes wrong seems a little scary. Again, it's not like switching to economy-brand shampoo.
D-blogger Scott Strumello believes that most Americans are favorable towards generic drugs, however, and that the cost savings are well worth it. He wrote and posted an extensive 7-page article on competitive jockeying in the insulin market and why we all ought to be shouting a lot louder for generics. Bravo, Scott!
Meanwhile, researchers seem to be inching closer to entirely new sources of insulin. There's the group working on saffron plants -- implausable but promising. Yesterday, the company, SemBioSys Genetics in Canada, announced that their plant-derived insulin is shown to be "indistinguishable from human insulin hormone."
"The findings could have massive implications for the insulin market, currently dominated by only three companies — Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi Aventis, recording blockbuster insulin sales of over $7.2bn (â‚¬5.6bn) in 2005," Checkbiotech reports. Let's hope this stuff has a major effect on the patient's bottom line as well as their's.
As Jim Hirsch notes, I'd like to close by saying I'm not naÃ¯ve. I know that each of these company's top priority is to its shareholders, and patients come second. They have to sustain sales to stay in business, of course. It's just that "each day, you inject it or pump it into your body, on blind faith that it will keep you alive to do the same tomorrow." And meanwhile it costs you and arm and a leg, as well!
*** UPDATE: The folks at Eli Lilly inform me that their CEO has written an Op-Ed piece confirming their "unwavering commitment" to diabetes and the patients who live with it. Read the article here. ***