Scott Hensley at the WSJ.com Health Blog had a banner day today with the sad withdrawal by Pfizer of their inhaled insulin product, Exubera. When I was a pharmacy professor in the mid-1990s, we shared Pharma’s optimism that an inhaled insulin product would be a godsend for diabetes patients who had to inject themselves with this essential hormone. The Terra Sig blog also has a historical soft spot for insulin since it was first crystallized by our nom-sake, Prof John Jacob Abel (PNAS 1926; 12:132-6 – PDF here).
Well, Abel must be quite disappointed somewhere out there in the Great Beyond: Exubera was a bust, selling only $12 million last year after being touted as a multi-billion dollar drug. Hensley pointed out one drawback was that the bulky inhaler was compared by some to a bong.
Indeed, in Health Blog’s quoting an old interview with the president of the American Diabetes Association, John Buse, the product was characterized as follows:
“I’m going to make it sound pretty bad: ‘A., You may have to take it for a long time and we only have three-year safety data. B. You’re going to carry this crazy thing that’s the size of a can of Coke. You’re going to be mixing packets before meals. People are going to think you’re doing drugs. Why would you do that?’ “
But that wasn’t all.
Health Blog then followed the response of Pfizer’s corporate partner, Nektar, who reported finding out about the discontinuation via press release at the same time as the public. Lovely. Nektar’s shares fell 15% today as a result.
Interestingly, the financial trail of this marketing trainwreck was foreseen by one of Pharmboy’s favorite blogs, the UK’s Pharmagossip in these posts from Jan 2006 and Oct 2005. (Pharmagossip’s Insider also seized upon the bong angle in today’s post) The only winner in this whole episode was Sanofi-Aventis who Pfizer paid $1.3 billion for rights to the product.
The good news for diabetic patients who hate giving themselves injections are other inhalable insulin products under development. For them, I hope that lessons were learned from this experience.