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New York attorney general subpoenas big three insulin makers in the US

The New York attorney general has subpoenaed three Big Pharma companies, requesting documents on their pricing and marketing strategies. 

Some 7.5 million Americans with type 1 diabetes rely on insulin to properly metabolize glucose, but the drug’s rising prices make it unaffordable for many and have caught scrutiny from US regulators.  

Eli Lilly, Sanofi and Nordisk  – three pharmaceutical giants – control the vast majority of the market for the life-saving drug. 

Following President Donald Trump’s promises to slash drug prices, the New York attorney general is just the latest official to go after the three companies, according to their filings with the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), STAT News reported.

Insulin prices have tripled since the 2000s in the US and US officials suspect its three big producers – Eli Lilly, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk – are to blame. The New York attorney general has subpoenaed the three companies for documents on their pricing structures

Currently, a single vial of insulin costs nearly $1,500. 

After its co-inventor Dr Frederick Banting initially refused to patent and profit from insulin, each of the three owners of the intellectual property rights agreed to accept just one Canadian dollar for it.   

First the drug’s price crept upward, then surged. Since the early 2000s, its cost has tripled. 

Insulin is so prohibitively expensive that some Americans have even taken to making cross-border runs to Canada to purchase it for a fraction of the US price.  

Across the board, American drug prices are exorbitantly high, running unchecked by government regulation and based instead on patents, competition and negotiations between insurers and drug companies. 

And US officials have accused many drug companies of conspiring together to push prices for generic drugs upward. 

In May, dozens of states filed lawsuits to this effect against 20 pharmaceutical companies. 

Theoretically, competition between the companies should help to depress the prices of drugs for which patents have expired.  

Instead, state prosecutors suspect that companies are agreeing not to out-price one another.  

In July, it appears that the office of New York’s attorney general (AG), Letitia James, launched its own inquiry into Sanofi, Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk. 

According to SEC filings, The state AG subpoenaed the companies to hand over documents pertaining to how they establish their prices and market their drugs. 

‘The subpoena requests the production of various documents relating to Sanofi’s insulin products including documents regarding pricing, discount programs, sales and expenses, contracting, marketing materials and legal proceedings,’ one of the filings reads. 

‘Sanofi US is cooperating with this inquiry.’

The New York AG’s office told that, as a matter of policy, it can neither confirm or deny that it has subpoenaed Sanofi, Eli Lilly and Novo Nordisk.  

Meanwhile, Congress’s  Committee on Oversight and Reform is also investigating Sanofi’s prices on two other drugs and the Senate’s finance committee sent the company a questioning letter in January inquiring about its insulin practices. 

Once again, the company wrote that it is cooperating, but expressed a hint of uncertainty.  

‘While we cannot predict the outcome of these matters, they – as well as the enactment of various policy proposals that are currently pending – could affect our ability to price our drugs, and in particular our insulin products, in the US marketplace,’ the SEC filing reads. 

‘Moreover, potential policy measures such as importation and international reference pricing could impact our business in other jurisdictions.’