Lilly to introduce Lantus copy in Europe after patent expires

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Eli Lilly and Co. plans to start commercializing a cheaper version of Sanofi’s Lantus insulin for diabetes in Europe at some point following the expiration of the medicine’s patent in May.

Drugmakers including Lilly are working to bring to market cheaper versions of complex biotechnology drugs, known in the industry as biosimilars. As drugmakers start negotiating with health insurers and governments, it’s unlikely the biosimilars will be sold at the same deep discounts as simpler-to-make generic pills, Richard Ascroft, Lilly’s senior director of market access for Europe, Australia and Canada, said in an interview Thursday in London.

“We see some risk that payers will have unrealistic expectations in terms of what the price will look like for these new products,” Ascroft said. “The risk is, if they expect to see ‘X’ savings and they don’t see it, will they take other measures to achieve those savings in the biologics market?”

Sanofi last year had revenue of $8.43 billion from Lantus, its best-selling product. While it lost U.S. patent protection this month, Sanofi has sued Lilly to block the biosimilar version from coming to market. Sanofi this week won U.S. approval for Toujeo, a successor to Lantus.

Sanofi surprised investors in October with a forecast of stalling growth at the diabetes business through 2018. The misstep contributed to CEO Chris Viehbacher’s ouster the same month. On Feb. 19, Sanofi said Bayer AG executive Olivier Brandicourt would become CEO in April.

Editor's note: This story was revised to correct Sanofi's 2014 sales of Lantus and to clarify that Lilly would roll out its copy of the drug after the patent expires in May, but not necessarily in May.

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