(Reuters) - Cigna Corp's pharmacy benefit unit said on Wednesday it will prefer Viatris Inc and Biocon Biologics Ltd's insulin drug Semglee, a cheaper alternative to Sanofi SA's Lantus, on the list of medicines it reimburses on behalf of health insurers.
The unit, Express Scripts, said it expects cost savings of $20 million in 2022 by preferring the Semglee injection.
Drugmakers such as Eli Lilly, Sanofi and Novo Nordisk have been under pressure to make their insulin products more affordable amid heavy criticism from lawmakers and patients in a country with a diabetes problem.
One in 10 Americans, or 34 million people, have diabetes, and researchers have found significant increases in the disease among both sexes and across racial and ethnic groups.
Semglee won U.S. approval in July as a biosimilar that can be used instead of Lantus without a physician's intervention.
Sales of Lantus, once Sanofi's top insulin product, have declined since its U.S. patent expired in 2015.
Biosimilars, cheaper copies of high-priced drugs, can help reduce costs, both through direct savings and competition that encourages lower prices, Express Scripts said.
Pharmacy benefit managers such as Express Scripts and CVS Health Corp help health insurers negotiate better prices from drugmakers and also draw up "formularies", or lists of drugs reimbursed by the insurers they work for.
(Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Devika Syamnath)