KEY TAKEAWAY: Afrezza, the inhaled insulin, is being held up as a failure because of dismal sales, but as diabetics on Twitter reminded me there is a market for the product if Sanofi and MannKind can turn it around quickly.
In extensive research with diabetics while at Medtronic I learned that most preferred to stay with injections vs. insulin pumps. With needles getting smaller and better delivery devices I thought that might be a key reason why Afrezza was failing, but I was quickly reminded by patients that injections create a high level of patient dissatisfaction.
Giving yourself injections is not an easy thing to do which is why so many drug companies have developed new insulin pens with very small needles. However, giving yourself injections can create scar tissue which could lead to patients looking for new areas to inject themselves.
Afrezza, when launched, was following in the steps of another huge failure in inhaled insulin, but Afrezza has good science behind it. So why is it being positioned at a failure? Because the launch was bungled and because insurers have not yet learned the advantages of the product for diabetics.
Failure #1: Failing to communicate the advantages of Afrezza to physicians as it relates to lower A1C and better patient outcomes.
Failure #2: Virtually non-existent DTC. Have you seen an Afrezza spot?
Failure #3: Failing to get insurers on board. Sanofi needs to clearly show better compliance and lower A1C levels in patients using Afrezza vs. Insulin, which in turn lowers long-term costs.
Can Sanofi and MannKind get their act together and turn it around? I would hope so, but when you’re co-marketing a product it can be hard to “take control” and do what needs to be done. As I was reminded, it’s too early to call Afrezza a failure, but not too late to say the launch was a disaster.