French drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis has launched its rapid-acting insulin Apidra (insulin glulisine) in the USA for people with diabetes.

The new product's major selling point is its flexibility: it can be injected shortly before as well as after meals, and has demonstrated a consistent profile in a wide range of individuals, from the lean to the obese, and in both type 1 and type 2 diabetics, according to Sanofi-Aventis.

The company has predicted that Apidra could become a 400 million euro ($478m) product at peak.

Apidra is designed to work in combination with long-acting insulin products, including Sanofi-Aventis' own Lantus (insulin glargine) product, which maintain background insulin levels.

In a statement, Sanofi-Aventis also said that Apidra cartridges will be available for use with its insulin injection pen OptiClik, which was the subject of legal action against the French firm by Denmark's Novo Nordisk, which claims injector infringes patents covering its own FlexPen device. The case is expected to reach court in 2007.

The US market for insulin is currently valued at about $2 billion per year. Approximately a fifth of all US diabetics who need to take insulin to control the disease use pen injectors, up from about 5% five years ago.