By Manas Mishra
March 4 () - Drugmaker Eli Lilly announced plans on Monday to sell a half-price version of its popular insulin injection Humalog, as it fends off criticism about rising drug prices in the United States.
Major drugmakers including Lilly, a leading producer of insulin, have come under fire from patients and lawmakers over the rising cost of the life-saving medication used to treat diabetes.
Lilly's rebranded product will be called Insulin Lispro, while Humalog, which makes $3 billion in annual sales, will remain available for those wishing to access it through existing insurance plans.
The cost of insulin for treating type 1 diabetes in the United States has nearly doubled over a five-year period, leading some patients to put their own health at risk by rationing the medication.
The list price for Lilly's authorized generic, to be sold only in the United States, will be $137.35 per vial.
"Today's announcement indicates that Lilly has calculated that the resultant impact of the introduction is at worst, economically neutral with the potential for material political gain," Citi analyst Andrew Baum said.
Two senators last month launched an investigation into rising insulin prices, writing to Lilly and other leading manufacturers, asking them why the cost of the nearly 100-year-old medication had rapidly risen.
The price of Lilly's Humalog rose from $35 to $234 per dose between 2001 and 2015, a 585 percent increase, the senators, Republican Chuck Grassley and Democrat Ron Wyden, had said.
Grassley on Monday called Lilly's announcement "good news" in a Twitter post but added it was "only 1 piece of puzzle" and more needed to be done. Wyden said via email that Lilly's move would be a part of the Senate Finance Committee's investigation.
Meanwhile, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi SA, two other major insulin producers, told they were already taking steps to make insulin more affordable.
Novo said it was offering insulin at $25 per vial at many national pharmacy chains and had a program to help uninsured patients. Its insulin has a list price of $137.70.
Sanofi said its insulin products were provided to uninsured or commercially insured patients for half their list price under a program launched last year.
Lilly has in the past called insulin a highly-rebated product. Drugmakers often argue they have to keep prices high because of rebates or after market-discounts they must pay to pharmacy benefit managers and health insurers to get products on their lists of covered drugs.
The U.S. government in January proposed a rule to end the industry-wide system of rebates, a change that Lilly says it would welcome.
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