On Thursday, October 18, pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced that it will stop selling its inhaled insulin product, Exubera. Pfizer said that it will help doctors switch people who currently use Exubera to alternative treatments over the next three months.
Exubera was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in January 2006. Upon approval, Pfizer and market analysts predicted that Exubera would be a blockbuster drug since it was the first inhaled option for people who needed to take insulin. However, Exubera’s high price and bulky inhaler, as well as concerns about its effects on lung function, led to much lower sales than had been expected. (For more details about these concerns, see the blog entry “Inhaled Insulin Passes Test for Safety” from earlier this year.) Also, because Exubera was not shown to control blood glucose levels any better than already-existing treatments, insurance companies were reluctant to cover it. In the end, Exubera captured less than 1% of the insulin market.
In a statement on the Exubera product Web site (www.exubera.com), Pfizer emphasizes that Exubera is a safe and effective medicine and is not being discontinued because of any concerns in those areas. Rather, it says, “Pfizer has made this decision because too few patients are taking Exubera.”
Because of its swift action time, Exubera was considered appropriate for “bolus” insulin doses, or doses taken to cover carbohydrate eaten in meals and snacks. Other insulin options with similar action times are the rapid-acting insulin analogs insulin lispro (Humalog), insulin aspart (NovoLog), and insulin glulisine (Apidra) and short-acting Regular insulin. Delivery options for these insulin products include syringes, insulin pens, jet injectors, and insulin pumps. Meanwhile, other pharmaceutical companies, including Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk, are currently developing new inhaled insulin products.
Were you an Exubera user? If so, what was your experience with the product, and what is your reaction to this news? Where do you think things went wrong for Exubera? Share your thoughts in a comment below.