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By Ransdell Pierson
NEW YORK Oct 23 The chairman of Alkermes Inc.
(ALKS.O) said on Tuesday his company's Air Insulin device had
convenience advantages over Pfizer Inc's (PFE.N) abandoned
Exubera, but said all forms of inhaled insulin will likely have
the same tendency to slightly impair lung function.
Pfizer last week said it was abandoning its involvement
with Exubera, the first inhaled form of insulin, and returning
rights to the product to longtime partner Nektar Therapeutics
Industry analysts said Exubera had dismal sales because
patients were turned off by the clumsy bong-like device used to
administer its powdered insulin and by the drug's tendency to
slightly impair lung function.
Alkermes Chairman Richard Pops said in an interview with
Reuters that his company's experimental Air Insulin, being
developed with Eli Lilly and Co. (LLY.N), may have similar
effects on lung function.
"We're assuming that pulmonary insulins in that regard are
all pretty much the same," he said, although a conclusive
picture of Air Insulin's safety will not emerge until 2-year
safety trials of the product conclude in the summer of 2008.
Patients using Exubera were required to have periodic tests
of their lung function because data from clinical trials
identified an initial decline.
"Pulmonary function testing was an impediment (to Exubera)
absolutely," Pops said, while acknowledging that such tests
might eventually also be required for patients taking Air
"It would certainly be easier not to have lung function
tests, but if that's the best thing for patients, it's the
right thing to do," he said.
Despite a national Pfizer advertising campaign last summer,
Exubera garnered total sales of only $12 million during the
first 9 months of 2007.
"I think it failed to connect with patients, doctors and
nurses because of its complexity," Pops said of Exubera, whose
canister is about the size of a tennis-ball can.
"It was a large device, it needed to be cleaned, dosages
were expressed in milligrams rather than units, and you needed
to be trained in the device's particular way of giving
insulin," he said. "It was a tall order."
By contrast, he said the Air Insulin device is light,
disposable and easy to use.
"It's (only) the size of a Magic Marker, you get a new one
every month and you don't have to clean it," Pops said.
Lilly has said it aims to seek marketing approval for Air
Insulin by 2009.
(Reporting by Ransdell Pierson)