Commentary: Why Was Inhaled Insulin a Failure in the Market?
Just a few years shy of a century ago, a group of Canadian researchers discovered a viable method of extracting insulin, filling a large and critical gap in the therapeutic treatment of diabetes (1). Since then, insulin and its associated delivery devices have become an integral part of the care and management of patients living with diabetes. Shortly after the first insulin injection was successfully delivered, vials of insulin became available commercially. At this time, large glass syringes were used to administer insulin, and each injection required sterilization of the syringe, as well as sharpening of the syringe needle with a pumice stone. Through the years, insulin syringes modernized, but it was not until the 1970s that an alternate delivery system—the insulin pump, used in continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion (CSII) regimens—became available. Fifteen years later, the first insulin pen was introduced to the marketplace, providing evidence that, as time progresses, there is no shortage of innovation in the diabetes arena.
The first two rapid-acting inhaled insulins on the market—Exubera in 2006 and Afrezza in 2014—represented yet another innovation milestone. In theory, inhaled insulin completely eliminated the psychological barriers associated with subcutaneous insulin delivery, such as needle phobia and incorrect injection technique. However, in October 2007, Pfizer withdrew Exubera from the market, and in January 2016, Sanofi withdrew from a $925 million marketing agreement with MannKind for Afrezza; both removals were due to poor sales volume. Although patients and providers have been searching for years for alternatives to injecting insulin, Exubera has already failed, and Afrezza’s destiny is uncertain.
The Exubera Experience
In 2006, Exubera was the first inhaled insulin approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It showed noninferiority in efficacy with regard to A1C lowering in both type 1 diabetes (2) and type 2 diabetes (3) compared to mixed regular/NPH …