MannKind, which developed the inhaled insulin Afrezza, is building a endocrinology sales force and hiring a new advertising agency after buying back the rights to therapy, which has struggled to generate substantial sales since its launch.
The company had initially partnered with Sanofi to market Afrezza, which was approved by the FDA in 2014. The French drugmaker last summer launched a campaign and incorporated the product into its free diabetes-monitoring and patient-assistance programs, but Afrezza failed to meet analyst expectations, bringing in less than $8 million in sales in 2015. It was once considered to have blockbuster potential.
In January, Sanofi ended its commercial agreement with MannKind. The drugmaker has said it made a “substantial” investment in sales and marketing for Afrezza.
“We think we know what went wrong in Sanofi’s hands, and we think we can fix that,” said Matthew Pfeffer, MannKind’s CEO.
In recent months MannKind hired Michael Castagna, a former VP and global commercial lead at Amgen, as chief commercial officer, tasking him with building a sales force targeting primary care physicians. It is in the midst of finalizing a contract with a new advertising agency. The company also changed its strategy, identifying new patient populations to target, evaluating new pricing tactics, and reopening discussions with payers.
See also: Sanofi launches DTC campaign for Afrezza
Sanofi spent $3.75 million on Afrezza advertising during the third quarter of 2015. During the same period, the treatment generated only about $2 million in revenue, according to data from Kantar Media. The “Surprise, it’s Insulin!” campaign, which was developed by Havas Health, primarily targeted patients in the early stages of a diagnosis with type 2 diabetes.
Still, Pfeffer viewed Sanofi’s strategy as flawed and said it failed to include potential patient populations. “They ignored segments, like type 1,” he said. “We think that was a mistake.”
What MannKind found in its own research was an active, aggressive group of patients with type 1 diabetes. Many of these patients were using continuous glucose monitoring systems and reporting online that they had had success with Afrezza. T. (For type 1 patients, the mealtime insulin must be taken in combination with long-acting insulin. Type 2 patients can use the product as a standalone therapy.)
Afrezza is the only FDA-approved inhaled insulin on the market. Pfizer, notably, scrapped its inhaled insulin product because it struggled to generate enough prescriptions and sales.
Pfeffer said the company plans to use direct-to-consumer advertising to promote Afrezza, but noted that the effort will be more focused and more cost-effective than the one launched by Sanofi. “What form that takes is still being determined,” he said. “That needs to be a little more targeted.”
MannKind is scheduled to report its first-quarter earnings in May and is expected to present four abstracts at the upcoming American Diabetes Association scientific meeting in June. It plans to use those events as platforms to explain and promote its new plans to market the insulin, Pfeffer said. Once its own marketing strategy is established, MannKind may consider partnering with another organization.
“We’re not going to hand over the product to another pharma company,” Pfeffer said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that MannKind is building a primary-care sales force. It is building an endocrinology sales force.