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FDA OKs automatic generic swap for brand-name insulin, a move that will lower costs

The move will allow pharmacists to automatically substitute the cheaper version, just as they do with generic pills for other kinds of drugs.

Till now, doctors have needed to specifically prescribe what’s called a biosimilar or OK substituting it for a more expensive brand-name insulin. No longer.
Till now, doctors have needed to specifically prescribe what’s called a biosimilar or OK substituting it for a more expensive brand-name insulin. No longer. The FDA’s move could save diabetics and health plans millions of dollars a year
AP

Federal regulators have taken a step that will make it easier to get a cheaper, near-copy of a brand-name insulin at the drugstore.

Till now, doctors have needed to specifically prescribe what’s called a biosimilar or approve substituting it for a more expensive brand-name insulin.

Now, a move by the federal Food and Drug Administration will allow pharmacists to automatically substitute the cheaper version, just as they do with generic pills for other kinds of drugs.

It’s the FDA’s first approval of an “interchangeable” biosimilar — a near-copy of an injected biologic medicine that’s manufactured inside living cells. It could save diabetics and health plans millions of dollars a year and encourage other drugmakers to create more biosimilar medicines.

Health data firm IQVIA projects U.S. savings from increasing use of biosimilars from 2020 through 2024 will top $100 billion.

The FDA agreed that Viatris Inc.’s Semglee was interchangeable with widely used Lantus, a long-acting insulin.

Depending on the pharmacy, Semglee injector pens cost about $150 to $190 without insurance for a typical month’s supply, compared to $340 to $520 for the same supply of brand-name Lantus.

Approval of a second such interchangeable biosimilar of a fast-acting insulin appears imminent from the same developers, Generic giant Viatris, based in Pittsburgh, and its partner Biocon, based in India.

Mylan N.V., one of two companies that merged to create Viatris last December, launched Semglee in the United States last summer.

Red tape, lengthy patents and pushback from brand-name drugmakers have limited U.S. sales of biosimilars to far below levels in Europe.

“These products are highly similar but much more affordable,” said Sean McGowan, head of biosimilars for the drug wholesaler AmerisourceBergen.

Only 20 of 29 FDA-approved biosimilars — for cancer and immune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis — are sold in the United States so far, he said.