Originally published November 7, 2016
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has expanded his criticism of Eli Lilly and Co. beyond 140 characters.
Days after Sanders blasted the pharmaceutical giant on Twitter, he and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Lilly and two other drugmakers for possible price collusion on insulin. The Democratic lawmakers cited research showing that the price of Lilly's fast-acting insulin Humalog increased by 103 percent from 2010 to 2014.
Sanders and Cummings say Lilly might be colluding with French drugmaker Sanofi and Danish drugmaker Novo Nordisk. They pointed to several instances in which the three drugmakers have "increased prices in lockstep," according to research and news reports.
Bloomberg reported on the trend, called "shadow pricing," in May. From 2002 to 2013, the overall annual cost of insulin more than tripled, from $231 to $736, according to analysis by STAT.
"The original insulin patent expired 75 years ago," the lawmakers wrote in a Nov. 3 letter to the Justice Department. "Instead of falling prices, as one might expect after decades of competition, three drugmakers who make different versions of insulin have continuously raised prices on this life-saving medication. In numerous instances price increases have reportedly mirrored one another precisely."
Indianapolis-based Lilly denied the lawmakers' assertions in a statement.
“We strongly disagree with the accusations in the letter," the statement said. "The insulin market in the U.S. is highly competitive. As several news outlets have reported, our average net realized price for Humalog has not increased since 2009.
Sanofi and Novo Nordisk also issued statements denying they colluded. The Justice Department declined comment.
Sanders and Cummings noted Lilly has been dinged in the past for insulin pricing. They cited a 2010 decision by Mexico to fine Lilly after alleging the company took turns with other drugmakers to submit winning bids on insulin deals. Lilly denied Mexico's allegations.
The Washington Post in October reported that the price of Lilly's Humalog has increased from $21 a vial to more than $250 over the past 20 years. Sanders' staff on Nov. 1 posted a link to that article on Twitter and followed up with sharp criticism. Lilly's stock fell to a seven-month low amid Sanders' Twitter criticism before rebounding within minutes.
Lilly in its statement acknowledged affordability problems with insulin but blamed it in part on "the complex reimbursement designs in the U.S. (that) place an unfair burden on people with diabetes."
“Lilly conducts business in a manner to ensure compliance with all applicable laws, and we adhere to the highest ethical standards," Lilly's statement said. "We look forward to setting the record straight on how the insulin market works in the U.S.”