Novo Nordisk to slash US insulin prices, following move by Eli Lilly

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Novo Nordisk logo is seen in Bagsvaerd outside of Copenhagen
Novo Nordisk logo is seen in Bagsvaerd outside of Copenhagen, Denmark February 1, 2017. Scanpix Denmark/Liselotte Sabroe via REUTERS

March 14 (Reuters) - Novo Nordisk (NOVOb.CO) said on Tuesday it would cut U.S. list prices for several insulin products by up to 75% next year, joining rival Eli Lilly and Co (LLY.N) as political pressure mounts to make these life-sustaining diabetes treatments more affordable.

The moves follow the passing of President Joe Biden's Inflation Reduction Act last year that capped insulin prices for Medicare recipients at $35 per month, but does not include patients without insurance.

Around 8.4 million of the 37 million people in the United States with diabetes use insulin, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Although insulin list prices are high in the U.S., drugmakers typically pay substantial rebates to private insurers and government programs, resulting in lower prices for most Americans with insurance.

Uninsured people sometimes have to pay the full list prices, forcing some to ration or skip taking their medicine.

Biden said in a statement that he was pleased by Novo's move and urged other manufacturers to follow suit.

The Danish drugmaker will reduce the list price of its NovoLog insulin by 75%, and for Novolin and Levemir by 65%. The company said the financial impact of the move was uncertain.

U.S.-listed Novo Nordisk shares rose as much as 1.7% to $142.95, while Denmark-listed shares closed marginally higher on Tuesday. Eli Lilly shares were down slightly.

Novo Nordisk, which had a 43% share of the U.S. and Canada insulin market as of November, also said it would reduce the list price of unbranded insulin products to match lowered prices of respective branded insulin products.

Eli Lilly said earlier this month it would cut the list prices for its most commonly prescribed insulin products by 70% in the fourth quarter of this year.

"I think it is a relatively natural consequence of what we have seen their competitor Eli Lilly do. We know there has been political pressure on this issue in general, it is a focus area in the U.S., especially for uninsured patients," Jyske Markets analyst Henrik Hallengreen Laustsen said.

Sanofi (SASY.PA) did not specifically comment on Novo Nordisk's announcement but said it would continue to review and update its programs. Eli Lilly, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk make up 90% of the U.S. market for insulin.

Stacie Dusetzina, a drug pricing expert and associate professor at Vanderbilt University, said the move was not surprising given the stiff competition for insulin.

The price cuts will also allow Novo to get out of paying substantial rebates to the U.S. government Medicaid program beginning in 2024, which could have been levied under 2021's American Rescue Plan Act if the company had kept prices high.

"They have little to lose by making this change," Dusetzina said.

Reporting by Bhanvi Satija in Bengaluru, Patrick Wingrove in New York and Nikolaj Skydsgaard in Copenhagen; Editing by Shilpi Majumdar and Bill Berkrot

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Bhanvi Satija reports on pharmaceutical companies and the healthcare industry in the United States. She has a postgraduate degree in International Journalism from City, University of London.