Eli Lilly’s lower-priced insulin goes on sale amid drug price debate

(CNN) — A cheaper generic version of the rapid-acting insulin Humalog has hit the market, according to a statement Wednesday by drugmaker Eli Lilly.

The company announced its plans in March amid growing concerns about the soaring prices of drugs, insulin in particular.

The prices have led many people with diabetes to cut back on their insulin in order to save on costs, in some cases leading to harmful or even deadly complications.

At 50% the list price of Humalog, the generic insulin lispro carries a list price of $137.35 per vial, the company said, or $265.20 for a pack of five pens. Brand-name Humalog will remain on the market.

The company says it expects people who are uninsured or on high-deductible plans to benefit. Mike Mason, senior vice president of connected care and insulins at Eli Lilly, said it’s one way the company hopes to lower insulin costs “until a more sustainable solution is achieved.”

Members of Congress have grilled executives of top pharmaceutical companies about the nation’s skyrocketing drug prices.

On separate occasions, lawmakers blasted Big Pharma as “morally repugnant” and told executives, “Your days are numbered.” In response, some pharmaceutical executives have agreed that it’s unacceptable for patients to be struggling to afford their meds. Some have said the health care system is “broken.”

Other companies, such as drugmaker Sanofi and health insurer Cigna, have introduced plans to lower the costs of insulin for some patients — but lawmakers have argued that it’s not enough.

In January, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said there was no clear reason “why the list price of Eli Lilly’s main insulin drug, Humalog, went from $21 a vial in 1996 to its current list price of $275.”

“Humalog isn’t thirteen times as effective as it used to be,” Wyden said. “A vial doesn’t last thirteen times longer than it did in 1996.”

study last year estimated that the cost of manufacturing a year’s supply of analog insulin tended to range between $78 and $133 per patient.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also wants to bring competition to the insulin market as a way to lower prices, former Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in an April statement. Gottlieb said the agency would change how insulin is regulated in order to enable products that are interchangeable to come to market.

A government report in March found that one-third of uninsured Americans did not take their medicine as prescribed, to try to lower their costs.

“Charging nearly $140 for a vial of insulin — a drug that was invented almost a century ago — is still too high,” Ben Wakana, executive director of the nonprofit Patients For Affordable Drugs, said in a statement in March, when Eli Lilly announced the move. “Millions of Americans with Medicare or employer coverage will continue to face Eli Lilly’s exorbitant list price.

“We need systematic changes to fix the broken insulin market to finally solve America’s insulin affordability crisis.”