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By Ransdell Pierson
NEW YORK, Oct 23 (Reuters) - 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 (NKTR.O).
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 Insulin.
“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)