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By David Mendosa

Last Update: June 16, 2009

Befitting the first company to manufacture insulin, Eli Lilly and Company has lots of information about diabetes. You will find it at its Eli Lilly and CompanySM Web site. But in a couple of respects the site is strangely silent.

Information on the site is ‘repurposed.’

Headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana, Lilly is a global research-based pharmaceutical corporation employing almost 30,000 people. Probably its most glorious achievement—certainly the most meaningful to people with diabetes—was the 1923 introduction of the first commercial insulin.

Since then it has gone on to dominate the U.S. insulin market, although the Danish company, Novo Nordisk, has the largest share worldwide.

"Our market share in the U.S. is around 20 percent," says Susan Jackson, a New York-based communications consultant for Novo Nordisk. "In Europe it's 65 percent and Japan it's 80 percent." Lilly did not provide market share data. Lilly also doesn't say on it Managing Your DiabetesSM Web site, but it will provide up to six months of free insulin to any American who needs it but can't afford to pay for it. To find out how to apply for this program, you have to go to a separate and hard-to-find Lilly Web page, Lilly Cares—Indigent Patient Program.

And nowhere on the Lilly site can you learn that Lilly plans to take Iletin® I (beef/pork) insulin off the market. Since Novo Nordisk pulled all its animal insulin off the market a couple of years ago, Lilly has been the only company to make it. Lilly says that production of Iletin® I will end this year and supplies will be gone some time next year.

Iletin® II (pork) insulin will remain available as will the newer human insulins. Animal insulins account for only 6 to 7 percent of the 3.2 million U.S. insulin users, says Dr. John Holcombe, Lilly's senior clinical research physician. He says that Lilly is planning to discontinue Iletin® I to narrow the company's product range.

"We didn't think it would be proper to put such a specific product announcement on the Web site," he says. "We wanted to go to physicians first, but the information is already out there."

Dr. Holcombe blames Diabetes Interview Publisher Scott King for telling consumers about Lilly's plans. "Our communications strategy has been torpedoed midship," he says. "We asked Scott to keep certain information we gave him in confidence. We felt a little betrayed by that."

Mr. King replies that he was just responding to the readers of his newspaper. "They called and wanted more information," he says. "That's why we felt it was our duty to get as much information as we could and put it in the newspaper. We feel that since the patient is taking a substance that they feel that their life depends on, they should be notified that there is going to be a change well in advance."

While Mr. King and some other users of Iletin® I are upset by Lilly's plans to withdraw it from the market, many people are happy about its plans to offer scholarships to 50 students this year. It does announce these plans on its Managing Your DiabetesSM Web site.

The third annual Lilly for Learning Diabetes Scholarship Program gives selected students who have type 1 diabetes $2,500 to be applied to tuition at American colleges and universities. In November Lilly will provide application forms for the 1999-2000 school year, with a March 31, 1999, application deadline.

But even that isn't the best part of the site, says webmaster David Crumbacher. That is a link to Lilly's customer service department where customer service representatives respond via e-mail.

By far the most popular area of the site in terms of visitors is its "Education Center," Mr. Crumbacher says. This consists of two sections, a "Diabetes Reference Manual" and a packet of material called "Managing Your Diabetes," after which the site as a whole takes its name.

Mr. Crumbacher says this material and much other information on the site is "repurposed" from Lilly's print publications. That's a word I'm not fond of, but which seems to be entering the Internet vocabulary. "This is essentially the same thing that you can get by calling Lilly," he says.

While Lilly's Managing Your DiabetesSM Web site might have little that you couldn't get from calling the company and lacks information on certain company programs and plans, what it does have is attractively presented, readily accessible, and doesn't push its products. You can't ask too much more from a company's Web site. 

The American Diabetes Association originally published this article on its Web site as one of my “About the Internet” columns.

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