American caravan arrives in Canadian ‘birthplace of insulin’ for cheaper medicine

Type 1 diabetes advocates from the United States depart a Canadian pharmacy after purchasing lower cost insulin in London, Ontario, Canada June 29, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Osor

By Tyler Choi

TORONTO (Reuters) – A self-declared “caravan” of Americans bused across the Canada-U.S. border on Saturday, seeking affordable prices for insulin and raising awareness of “the insulin price crisis” in the United States.

The group called Caravan to Canada started the journey from Minneapolis, Minnesota on Friday, and stopped at London, Ontario on Saturday, to purchase life-saving type 1 diabetes medication at a pharmacy.

The caravan numbers at approximately 20 people, according to Nicole Smith-Holt, a member of the group. Smith-Holt said her 26-year-old son died in June 2017 because he was forced to ration insulin due to the high cost. This is Smith-Holt’s second time on the caravan.

Caravan to Canada trekked the border in May for the same reasons, which Holt-Smith said was smaller than the group this week. She said Americans have gone to countries like Mexico and Canada for more affordable medications in the past and continue to do so.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported in May that Canadian pharmacists have seen a “quiet resurgence” in Americans coming to Canada looking for cheaper pharmaceuticals.

Insulin prices in the United States nearly doubled to an average annual cost of $5,705 in 2016 from $2,864 in 2012, according to a study in January.

Allison Nimlos, a Type 1 diabetes advocate from the United States, shows the less expensive Canadian insulin she purchased (right) after leaving a Canadian pharmacy in London, Ontario, Canada June 29, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

Allison Nimlos, a Type 1 diabetes advocate from the United States, shows the less expensive Canadian insulin she purchased (right) after leaving a Canadian pharmacy in London, Ontario, Canada June 29, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

While not everyone purchased the same amount of insulin, Smith-Holt said most people are saving around $3,000 for three months of insulin, and as a whole, the group is saving around $15,000 to $20,000.

Prescriptions for insulin are not required in Canadian pharmacies Smith-Holt said, but the caravan has them so they can prove to the border patrol they are not intending to resell them when returning to the United States.

Quinn Nystrom, a leader of T1International’s Minnesota chapter, said on May via Twitter that the price of insulin in the United States per vial was $320, while in Canada the same medication under a different name was $30.

T1International, a non-profit that advocates for increased access to type 1 diabetes medication, has described the situation in U.S. as an insulin crisis.

“We know that many people couldn’t make this trip because they cannot afford the costs associated with traveling to another country to buy insulin there,” said Elizabeth Pfiester, the executive director of T1International in a press release.

An itinerary states the caravan will stop at the Banting House in London, Ontario later in the day. The Banting House is where Canadian physician and scientist Frederick Banting, who discovered insulin, lived from 1920 to 1921, and is called the “birthplace of insulin”, according to the Banting House website.

Smith-Holt said the group is not currently planning any future trips, but they could be organized in the near future depending on need. She hopes for long-term solutions in the United States like price caps, anti-gouging laws, patent reform and transparency from pharmaceutical companies.

(Reporting by Tyler Choi, Editing by Franklin Paul)

Eli Lilly backs U.S. proposal on drug rebates to lower costs

The logo and ticker for Eli Lilly and Co. are displayed on a screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Tamara Mathias

(Reuters) – Eli Lilly and Co on Wednesday embraced a U.S. government proposal to end a decades-old system of rebates drugmakers make to industry middlemen, saying it could lower the cost of insulin and other prescription drugs for patients.

Lilly, along with other major insulin makers, Sanofi SA and Novo Nordisk, has been under mounting pressure from patients and politicians over the rising cost of the life-sustaining diabetes treatment.

“While it’s still a proposal, we see this as … a win for patients, lowering their out-of-pocket costs at the pharmacy counter with the greatest benefit realized by patients taking more highly-rebated products such as insulin,” Chief Executive David Ricks said on a call with analysts.

Drugmakers argue they have to keep prices high because of the rebates they must pay to pharmacy benefit managers and health insurers to get products on their lists of covered drugs. In January, the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump proposed a rule that would end the rebate system or pass along the savings to patients.

“We’ll adapt to whatever rules come out and how they get finalized,” Ricks said.

Lilly on Wednesday also cut its 2019 profit and revenue forecasts to account for disappearing sales of its cancer drug Lartruvo, which won conditional U.S. approval in 2016 based on early data but last month failed to extend patient survival a confirmatory trial. Costs related to Lilly’s pending $8 billion acquisition of Loxo Oncology also contributed to the revised forecast.

Lilly has said it is suspending promotion of Lartruvo and it will no longer be prescribed to new U.S. patients.

The Indianapolis-based drugmaker’s research and development spending is also expected to rise as it develops Loxo’s pipeline of targeted drugs for cancers driven by rare genetic mutations.

The company said it now expects 2019 adjusted earnings of $5.55 to $5.65 per share, down from its prior forecast of $5.90 to $6.00. It expects revenue of $25.1 billion to $25.6 billion versus its prior view of $25.3 billion to $25.8 billion.

“The forecast cut was generally expected, given the Loxo acquisition and the Lartruvo failure were known events,” Edward Jones analyst Ashtyn Evans said.

“Diabetes will always be an area where we’ll see pricing pressure. Lilly fully takes that into consideration when giving guidance,” she added.

Excluding items, Lilly earned $1.33 per share, a penny shy of analysts’ average estimate, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Eli Lilly shares fell 1.3 percent to $118.82.

(Reporting by Manogna Maddipatla, Tamara Mathias in Bengaluru and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Bill Berkrot)

New diabetes treatment could be ‘game-changer’

A new form of treatment for Type 1 Diabetes that uses a patient’s own cells to fight the disease is being hailed as a potential “game-changer” after an early trial suggests that it’s safe for patients.

A research team headed by University of California San Francisco scientists recently put the treatment through its first U.S. safety trial and said patients reported no serious side effects.

That’s cleared the way for more tests, but there’s a way to go before the method is mainstream. Researchers still need to determine how effective the new form of treatment is against Type 1 Diabetes, an immune disease in which human bodies attack the cells that produce insulin.

While many traditional treatment methods go after the immune system, the researchers wrote in a news release that may increase the odds of a person developing an infection or even cancer.

The method being studied involves removing less than two cups of blood from a patient’s body to find certain kinds of cells called regulatory T cells, or Tregs. Scientists sort the Tregs and place them in a growth medium to boost their numbers, then inject them back into the patient’s body.

The goal is for those enriched Tregs to help bodies battle the attacks on insulin-producing cells while still keeping their immune systems fit enough to hold off other diseases and infections.’

The researchers said in the news release that all the signs to date have been encouraging, and that all of the 14 patients tolerated the Treg treatment well. The next step is a Phase 2 trial, another step toward confirming the treatment is actually beneficial for patients with the disease.

“This could be a game-changer,” UC San Francisco researcher Jeffrey A. Bluestone said in the news release. “For type 1 diabetes, we’ve traditionally given immunosuppressive drugs, but this trial gives us a new way forward. By using Tregs to ‘re-educate’ the immune system, we may be able to really change the course of this disease.”

About 1.25 million Americans have Type 1 Diabetes, the American Diabetes Association says.