Sanofi’s ‘conflicted’ handling of Afrezza stunted inhaled insulin R&D, says Dance CEO

By Dan Stanton contact

- Last updated on GMT

Sanofi’s handling of Afrezza left investors sceptical about financing inhaled insulin developments, says Dance BioPharm. Image: iStock/Leonid Andronov,
Sanofi’s handling of Afrezza left investors sceptical about financing inhaled insulin developments, says Dance BioPharm. Image: iStock/Leonid Andronov,

Related tags: Inhaled insulin, Inhalable insulin, Mannkind corporation

Despite Sanofi’s “conflicted” management and subsequent abandonment of Afrezza, the market opportunity for inhaled insulin is still huge, according to Dance Biopharm's CEO.

This week​, Sanofi abandoned its commercialisation deal for the inhaled insulin product Afrezza, leaving developer MannKind Corporation looking for a new distribution and licensing partner.

The news is the latest blow to the inhaled insulin sector which was left unsettled following the failure of Exubera in 2007​. A lack of acceptance by patients and physicians led Pfizer to pull its product a year after launch and at a cost of $2.8bn, and within a matter of months fellow Big Pharma firms Eli Lilly​ and Novo Nordisk​ abandoned their own development projects.

Despite this background, Dance Biopharm’s CEO John Patton said there is still a market for inhaled insulin, though Sanofi’s actions have marred his own company’s efforts in developing Dance-501, a pocket-sized inhaler device and insulin container designed to deliver prandial insulin.

“The less-than-optimal performance of Sanofi with Afrezza has had an impact on our development, because investors have become more sceptical about inhaled insulin, so raising money has been difficult and that has slowed our development effort.”​ he told in-Pharmatechnologist.com. “This particular news is not helping!”

He continued, blaming both Exubera and Afrezza’s problems primarily on a lack of persistence and commitment by their marketers.

“Exubera never had a chance, and Afrezza may have been priced too high and was targeted to a very small percentage of the insulin users.”

Conflict of interest

Sanofi is looking to reinvigorate growth in its diabetes franchise​ through its marketed products Lantus and Toujeo, and Patton said this left the French Pharma Giant “conflicted”​ when it came to Afrezza.

“Inhaled insulin can directly compete with Lantus and Toujeo in Type 2 patients, and with all of the prandial insulins in both Type 1 and 2 they were conflicted.  No way Sanofi was going to go against its golden goose franchise.”

Last February, Dance raised $9.5m in private funding to prepare for further clinical trials of Dance-501. The product is a soft mist made by a little electronic device which has completed Phase II trials and, according to the firm, has an action not quite as fast as Afrezza but lasts longer than MannKind’s product.

“Inhaled insulin will be enormously successful someday,”​ Patton said. “We believe our soft mist product will lead the way.”

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