Eli Lilly shuns sales force expansion as it looks to boost US diabetes market share: report

President of Eli Lilly's diabetes unit Enrique Conterno said the company only plans a "very limited expansion" of its sales force as it looks to increase its share of the diabetes market in the US, Bloomberg reported. Instead, the drugmaker is betting on its diverse portfolio of diabetes therapies, with plans to launch as many as four new treatments by 2016.

Bloomberg noted that earlier this year, Novo Nordisk redirected its US sales team to boost promotion of Victoza (liraglutide), prompting Merck & Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb, which sell similar therapies, to increase their own sales efforts. "I don’t think the market is responsive today to putting more and more sales people focused on brands," Conterno remarked, adding "we start with the patient and think of all the therapies we could have" instead of "trying to force a brand" on both patients and doctors.

Earlier this month, Novo Nordisk confirmed that the company lost two contracts to supply US pharmacy group Express Scripts with diabetes therapies Victoza and NovoLog (insulin aspart). "The environment is playing out in such a way that I think validates our strategy," Conterno said.

The drugmaker, which currently markets Humalog (insulin lispro) and Tradjenta (linagliptin), hopes to launch the SGLT-2 inhibitor empagliflozin and the once-weekly GLP-1 agonist dulaglutide in the US and Europe next year. Conterno indicated that Eli Lilly will likely introduce empagliflozin in the first half of 2014, and dulaglutide later in the year. The company is also developing a biosimilar version of Sanofi's Lantus (insulin glargine) and in July submitted a filing for the drug to European regulators. Conterno said Eli Lilly "is on track" to submit the same product for approval in the US later this year. The executive noted that Eli Lilly plans to introduce its version of Lantus as soon as the patent expires in 2015. "We don’t intend to infringe any patents that may be out there," he said.

Conterno added that Eli Lilly expects to release initial data from a Phase III study of LY2605541 later this year or in early 2014, with plans to submit marketing applications for the experimental long-acting insulin as early as next year. Conterno noted that "it is not that we are going for quantity" in the company's diabetes portfolio. "Each one of those products within this comprehensive portfolio has significant merit," Conterno commented, adding "our focus now has to be on execution."

For related analysis, see In Focus: Discounts, differentiation and determination – why Boehringer Ingelheim, Eli Lilly's Tradjenta is bucking the trend in the US diabetes market and Physician Views Poll Results – Novo Nordisk winning the US diabetes marketing battle.

To read more Top Story articles, click here.