Sunday, July 6, 2014

Inhalable Insulin, Round Three

Last month the FDA approved yet another inhalable insulin product for use in controlling blood sugar in Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics.   The new product (called Afreeza) delivers powdered insulin via an inhaler similar to those used by asthmatics.  Designed to be used before each meal, Afreeza is apparently one of the most rapidly acting insulin products available.

It’ll be interesting to see whether anyone cares any more this time than they did last time.  Inhalable insulin products have been attempted twice before, and both times the products were spectacular failures.   Pfizer was the first pharmaceutical company to bring an inhalable insulin product (called Exubera) to market, back in 2006.   The company quit making Exubera after just a year due to poor sales.  Shortly thereafter, Eli Lilly halted the development of its own inhalable insulin product before it even came to market (see "Inhaled Insulin - Who Cares?").

But even in the face of these spectacular failures, it’s been hard for pharmaceutical companies to give up on the idea.  The market for diabetes treatment products is huge – there are nearly 30 million diabetics in the U.S. alone.   Even a small part of the sales of diabetic products would be a huge boost to the bottom line of most pharmaceutical companies.   MannKind, the small company that spent nearly $2 billion developing Afreeza over the last decade, thinks that Afreeza will prove to be successful where others failed.  But don’t hold your breath.   Pfizer’s experience was that diabetics really didn’t mind their syringes and small needles all that much.  Whether an inhalable insulin product ever gains widespread market acceptance may boil down to price.

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