FDA allows automatic 'generic' swap for brand-name insulin

U.S. regulators have taken action that will make it easier to get a cheaper and similar version of a brand-name insulin at the drugstore

U.S. regulators took action Wednesday that will make it easier to get a cheaper, near-copy of a brand-name insulin at the drugstore.

Doctors now have to specifically prescribe what’s called a biosimilar or OK substituting it for a more expensive brand-name insulin.

Wednesday’s move by the Food and Drug Administration will allow pharmacists to automatically substitute the cheaper version, just as they do with generic pills for other kinds of drugs.

The FDA agreed that Viatris Inc.’s Semglee was interchangeable with widely used Lantus, a long-acting insulin.

Approval of a second such interchangeable biosimilar of a fast-acting insulin appears imminent from the same developers, Pittsburgh-based generic giant Viatris and its partner, India’s Biocon.

Mylan N.V., one of two companies that merged to create Viatris last December, launched Semglee in the U.S. last summer.

Red tape, lengthy patents and pushback from brand-name drugmakers have limited U.S. sales of biosimilars to far below levels in Europe.

“These products are highly similar but much more affordable,” said Sean McGowan, head of biosimilars at AmerisourceBergen, a top drug wholesaler.

Only 20 of 29 FDA-approved biosimilars — for cancer and immune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis — are sold in the U.S. so far, he said.

Depending on the pharmacy, Semglee injector pens cost about $150 to $190 without insurance for a typical month’s supply, compared to $340 to $520 for the same supply of brand-name Lantus.

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Follow Linda A. Johnson on Twitter: @LindaJ—on Pharma

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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This story was first published on July 28, 2021. It was updated on July 29 to correct that Lantus is a long-acting insulin, and a biosimilar seeking approval is fast acting.

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