March 4, 2022 -- Everyone knows that insulin prices in the United States are ridiculously high and unaffordable to many people with diabetes, but nobody has done anything about it -- until now.
Civica Inc., a nonprofit organization governed by health systems and philanthropies, announced Thursday that it plans to manufacture and sell generic insulin at a steep discount to current market prices. The generic insulin will carry a recommended price of no more than $30 per vial and no more than $55 for a box of five pen cartridges, according to Civica.
In contrast, Eli Lilly’s Humalog cost $269 per vial in 2017, according to Mike Magee’s book Code Blue: Inside America’s Medical Industrial Complex. In 2019, Lilly introduced lispro, the generic equivalent of Humalog, pricing it at $137 per vial or $265 for five pen cartridges. Those prices dropped this year to $82.41 for individual vials and $159.12 for a pack of five pens.
Other insulin makers with similarly high prices include Sanofi and Novo Nordisk.
Contingent on FDA approval, Civica anticipates that the first of its three insulin products (glargine, the equivalent of Lantus) will be available for purchase as early as 2024. The insulin drugs will be made at Civica’s 140,000-square-foot manufacturing plant being built in Petersburg, VA. Other types of insulin will be available later, including lispro and aspart (the Novolog equivalent).
Civica was founded in 2018 by health systems and foundations as a kind of health utility. Its concept was to bypass the major drugmakers and to manufacture or subcontract for generic pharmaceuticals that its 1,500-plus member hospitals needed. The money to operate Civica Rx, the subsidiary formed for this purpose, came from health systems and charity groups.
The first governing members included seven health systems -- Catholic Health Initiatives (now CommonSpirit), HCA Healthcare, Intermountain Healthcare, Mayo Clinic, Providence, SSM Health, and Trinity Health -- and three charities: the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the Peterson Center on Healthcare, and the Gary and Mary West Foundation. Kaiser Permanente and Memorial Hermann later joined the Civica board.
To jump-start its operation, Civica Rx subcontracted with companies that already had government licenses to make generic drugs. So far, Civica Rx has provided more than 50 generic drugs to 55 health systems that represent more than 30% of U.S. hospital capacity. It also supplies the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense and has provided 11 essential medications need to treat COVID-19 patients.
Recently, Civica formed CivicaScript to reduce the cost of generic drugs in retail pharmacies. Among CivicaScript’s founding members are the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), 18 independent BCBS health plans, and Anthem. Other groups involved in the insulin project include foundations and some health systems, such as Intermountain, Kaiser Permanente, Providence, and Trinity.
Martin VanTrieste, president and chief executive officer of Civica Rx, said in a news release : “More than 8 million Americans rely on insulin to live, but many can’t afford to take the amount they need because of the historically high and prohibitive cost of insulin. We know that to really solve for the insulin cost and access challenges so many Americans face, we need a process -- from manufacturing to setting a transparent price -- that ultimately lowers the cost of the drug for those living with diabetes.”