Sanofi sues Novo Nordisk over diabetes drugs in the U.S.

PARIS/NEW YORK, Dec 27 (Reuters) - France’s Sanofi has filed a lawsuit in the United States accusing Novo Nordisk of falsely claiming that Sanofi insulin drugs would no longer be available for many U.S. patients so it could promote its competing drug.

The complaint, filed by Sanofi US in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey on Dec. 23, seeks an order forcing Novo Nordisk to pay unspecified money damages and withdraw marketing materials for its drug Tresiba.

The marketing materials urge doctors and patients to switch from Sanofi’s drugs Lantus and Toujeo, used to treat diabetes, to Tresiba, according to Sanofi, because the Sanofi drugs will be “blocked” by U.S. pharmacy benefit manager CVS Caremark in January.

Sanofi said CVS is replacing the drugs with Eli Lilly’s similar, cheaper drug Basaglar on its so-called standard formulary, a list of drugs that health insurance plans cover.

Many health plans do not use CVS’ standard formulary, and some that do will likely continue to cover the Sanofi drugs, though patients will have to pay more for them, Sanofi said. Sanofi also said it offers assistance to individuals to buy the drugs if their insurance does not cover them.

Novo Nordisk had no comment.

“(W)e believe Novo’s statements concerning CVS Caremark’s formulary decision on Lantus and Toujeo coverage contain false and misleading claims about the continued availability of Lantus and Toujeo,” said a Sanofi spokeswoman in an emailed statement.

Lantus and Toujeo are two of the diabetes treatments that Sanofi sells in the United States, the world’s largest health market.

Pressure has been rising on its U.S. diabetes business in recent months as CVS and insurer UnitedHealth Group Inc announced plans to replace Lantus and Toujeo with Basaglar.

Sanofi posted better-than-expected quarterly earnings in October and lifted its profit outlook for the year. But the drugmaker stuck to its forecast that currency-adjusted sales at its embattled diabetes business would shrink by 4 percent to 8 percent per year on average from 2015 to 2018. (Reporting by Matthias Blamont in Paris and Brendan Pierson in New York; Additional reporting by Annabella Pultz Nielsen in Copenhagen; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)