BrandWeek Bashes Exubera

Ouch, Pfizer is getting hit hard on what appears to be the impending commercial failure of Exubera, the first-ever market-ready inhalable insulin. On Monday, BrandWeek (the marketing industry’s premiere weekly publication) called it the “Billion-Dollar Bong“:

“Last year, Pfizer paid Sanofi-Aventis $1.4 billion for Exubera, a new inhaled insulin product for diabetics that Pfizer forecast would produce $2 billion in sales every year.

“What Pfizer got for its cash was a device that looks a lot like a marijuana bong—and a brand that analysts, doctors, drug sales reps and some patients believe is a struggle to sell because it is so inconvenient to use.”

Pfired Hate to say I told you so, but the story actually quotes me (!) noting that the clunky inhaler device “is an aesthetic nightmare in an age of cool gadgetry.”

And I am so not the only one who thinks so. Apparently Pfizer’s own sales reps have been bitching about Exubera on Café Pharma, the pharma industry’s gossip online board. BrandWeek quotes: “I’ve only been able to sell one Exubera script that I know… So much hype before the product was launched. This thing is a bust.” And also: “Dumb, dumb, dumb… Look at the size of the bong who the fuck wants to carry something so damn big that it doesn’t even fit in a pocket[?]”

Youch! But true, as in, “Are you happy to see me, or is that just your Exubera?”

Anyway, as evidenced here at, not everyone hates Exubera.  User Jen Haws from Iowa, who I’ve interviewed here a few times, writes, “I still think that I am the only person in the world on it and it’s so great!”  Judging by the sales stats, Jen may be right: she may be just about the only person on it. Of 5,000 diabetes doctors targetted, only one-fifth have managed to persuade a single patient to stick with Exubera, BrandWeek reports.

Now launching a new direct-to-consumers TV ad campaign, Pfizer still seems to believe it can reach its $2 billion sales target.

Our own David Kliff of Diabetic Investor has this to say: “I think Pfizer is on drugs.” If Pfizer does reach its goal, “I’m going to run down Madison Avenue naked,” Kliff told BrandWeek.  Hah! Now I’m kind of rooting for the Big Insulin Bong just to have a little fun seeing David make good on his dare ;)


7 Responses

  1. Scott
    Scott February 28, 2007 at 7:41 am | | Reply

    LOL! I am the first to note that Pfizer has made a number of mistakes with Exubera. But perhaps more than anything, I think the assumption that Exubera was going to be an automatic blockbuster was perhaps the biggest mistake.

    In spite of Pfizer’s mistakes, I do not wish for Exubera to fail, rather I think it should be a lesson for the others (notably Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly and Company) that inhalable insulin is not necessarily what the diabetes market was seeking, what we really need is more along the lines of what SmartCells, Inc. is developing: an insulin that cannot cause hypoglycemia and eliminates the need for testing. To some extent, I think people with diabetes’ needs must be researched more carefully by the pharmaceutical industry. While I think we’d all love to throw our syringes away permanently, I think the assumption that the same old insulin without a needle would be our dream come true was an over-simplification of the market’s wants and needs!

  2. Madde
    Madde February 28, 2007 at 8:59 am | | Reply

    Big Pharma
    +blood sugar control without
    risks of hypoglycemia
    2 Billion market

  3. Living With Diabetes
    Living With Diabetes February 28, 2007 at 11:56 am | | Reply

    Diabetes Mine: BrandWeek Bashes Exubera

    I actually know a fellow teacher who loves Exubera and doesn’t seem to mind the bong. It is hideous though. Not everyone hates Exubera. Source: Diabetes Mine: BrandWeek Bashes Exubera…

  4. AmyT
    AmyT February 28, 2007 at 12:16 pm | | Reply

    You are so right, Scott. I heard that many pump companies require employees to wear a pump (full of saline) for a while to get a feel for it. Somehow I doubt that the folks who designed Exubera actually carried it around and sucked on it in public places themselves… and doesn’t anybody use Focus Groups anymore, btw?

  5. vicki
    vicki March 1, 2007 at 9:05 pm | | Reply

    Personally, I think the idea of inhaled insulin stinks. First of all, I wouldn’t consider inhaling something into my lungs that hasn’t been tested for longterm effects.

    But most of all, I go for tight control and take MDI with fast-acting insulin matched to carbs at each meal; my dose is variable. And how can inhaled insulin be that precise? The way I dose insulin, the difference between 1 unit and 2 units can be critical. No way could I get that precision with inhaled insulin.

    Too bad they spent all those bucks for a product that I could have told them wouldn’t sell…

  6. Sunil S Chiplunkar
    Sunil S Chiplunkar March 4, 2007 at 9:21 pm | | Reply


    Pfizer with high hopes, launched it like a bong
    Thought – it would be click like a gong
    But missing is the exuberance
    All it got is malevolence
    So will Exubera bomb?

  7. Eric
    Eric June 14, 2007 at 9:20 am | | Reply

    I’ve been on Exubera since February, and I don’t mind the bong, but I have a problem with how Pfizer sells the drug. I usually use 2 x 3mg blisters 3 times a day, sometimes adding a 1mg blister or substituting a 3 for a 1. Until this month, you could only buy a kit with 90 3mg and 90 1mg blisters, and 2 release units. Suffice to say, I have a lot of 1mg blisters and several release units. This week I got my refill of only 3mg units, but each box has 2 release units in it, which is twice the amount I need. I think Pfizer is packaging all of this to get a quick return on their investment at our expense. At my next office visit, I’m going to talk to my Dr. about going to injectible insulin since I can’t store all this extra stuff Pfizer insists on selling me

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