The increasing cost of insulin is in the spotlight as a “groundbreaking” lawsuit in the US has been filed against three major pharmaceutical companies.
A group of people with diabetes, some of whom claim they are spending $900 (£710) a month on the hormone which is needed to control the condition, have decided to take legal action.
Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi have been accused of working together to raise the price of insulin to “skyrocketing prices”.
In the past five years all three firms have increased the cost of insulin by more than 150 per cent, the lawsuit, which was filed at the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts, said.
The court documents provide several patient accounts who admit to turning to extreme measures to avoid using the correct amount of insulin or paying for it.
Some of these include starving themselves, taking insulin that has expired, under-dosing and in some cases purposefully slipping into diabetic ketoacidosis in a bid to get free insulin samples from hospital.
The law firm Hagens Berma, which is representing the patient group, has called this a “groundbreaking” and the “first-of-its-kind” lawsuit.
Managing partner Steve Berman of the company said: “People living with diabetes are practically imprisoned under the price hikes and sadly are resorting to extreme measures to afford the medication they need to live.
“The lawsuit seeks to represent a nationwide class of consumers who have purchased analogue insulin at recently skyrocketing prices to reclaim economic losses in an amount to be determined at trial and to put in place an injunction halting this behaviour.”
The companies have been accused of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and several state consumer-protection laws.
The lawsuit is critical of the way two different prices are used for insulin. One is the ‘benchmark’ price which is publicly quoted. The second is a much lower price available via ‘rebates’ that are offered to pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs).
The system has exposed people, such as those who cannot afford health insurance, to need to a pay a large proportion of the higher ‘benchmark’ price.
All three of the drug companies have denied the charges.
Speaking to Medscape Medical News, Ken Inchausti, Novo Nordisk’s director, corporate branding and reputatio, said: “We are aware of the complaint and its characterisation of the pharmaceutical supply chain.
“We disagree with the allegations made against the company and are prepared to vigorously defend the company in this matter.
“At Novo Nordisk, we have a longstanding commitment to supporting patients’ access to our medicines. Since this is an ongoing litigatio, we can’t comment further.
Gregory Andrew Kueterman from Eli Lilly said: “Lilly conducts business in a manner that ensures compliance with all applicable laws, and we adhere to the highest ethical standards. We are aware that a lawsuit has been filed against several insulin manufacturers. We have no further comment at this time.”
Meanwhile, Ashleigh Koss, head of media relations for North American, Sanofi US, said: “We strongly believe these allegations have no merit and will defend against these claims.”

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