Inhaled Insulin Marketing Failure

According to the American Diabetes Association, 16% of the 14.6 million people diagnosed with diabetes need daily doses of insulin. That used to mean a series of daily shots, but now some patients have an inhalable option to make the process a little easier. But why aren't more diabetics breathing in the concept?

For many diabetics, insulin injections can be painful and annoying. But, a pain free answer came last year in the form of Exubera, the first inhalable insulin. In spite of fanfare surrounding the drug, for the most part, it's been a marketing flop, and experts say, that is a shame.

60 year old Sharon Sachs was diagnosed with type two diabetes seven years ago, and must take insulin before every meal to keep her blood sugar in check. “Sometimes it’s a pain in the neck,” she says. But now she says she has one less pain when it comes to getting her insulin, no needles necessary! She just breathes it in. It’s called Exubera. It was approved by the FDA last year as the first diabetes treatment you inhale.

 Sharon says, “It’s very fast, very efficient, and you can do it anywhere, you can take it with you anywhere. It fits into your lifestyle very easily.” Diabetes nurse practioner Jane Seley says, “Someone who really does not want to take an injection may decide that this is something that feels more comfortable to them.” Despite that convenience, some experts say Exubera, made by Pfizer isn’t taking off for many reasons.

One problem--many doctors don't perform the in-office breathing test needed first to see if the patient can use the inhaled insulin. Seley says, “Going to the endocrinologists first might have been a mistake, particularly because we don’t have spirometers in our office so we can’t do the pulmonary function test.”

Another issue: smokers and people with chronic lung disease such as asthma cannot use Exubera. Also, the device looks like a large bong to some. Some feel it’s extremely difficult to carry around. Insurance coverage is also an issue—because Exubera is more expensive than traditional injection-insulin.

And, simply getting the word out about inhaled insulin has been an issue—there’s been no significant direct to consumer marketing yet. Seley says, “Anything that is going to get the patient on insulin and improve their glycemic control is going to benefit the patient. Seley says the patient training process can be cumbersome for certain patients, and that can be a disincentive.

“If it’s going to be three or four visits, the patient is going to lose steam and never make it back. I think that’s a problem, we haven’t ironed out how to do it right,” she says. As a result, this weapon against diabetes is gathering dust. “If I can get someone to take that leap forward and actually get them to go on insulin, by using this, it’s win-win.”


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