Why Insulin Costs So Much
Everyone who has type 1 diabetes has to use insulin, and about 25 percent of the people who have type 2 diabetes rely on it to control their blood sugar. But its costs are skyrocketing and no end is in sight.
At the annual convention of the American Diabetes Association in Boston this June I listened with perhaps 1,000 other diabetes professionals to one of the world’s top experts on diabetes talk about insulin costs. Irl Hirsch, MD, is the professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine, also treats patients with diabetes, and has type 1 diabetes himself.
For several years, readers of my articles have written me to complain about the rising cost of insulin. Because I know how expensive that insulin has become, I made sure to hear Dr. Hirsch’s presentation. But I was surprised to see that he cited one of my articles in a slide that he presented.
The Patent Problem
Dr. Hirsch reviewed the cost of insulin from 1921 when Drs. Frederick Banting and Charles Best discovered it. “In a generous gesture that unfortunately didn’t start a trend, they sold the patent for $1 so that cheap insulin would quickly become available. It worked like a charm: within two years Eli Lilly had sold 60 million units of its purified extract of pig and cow insulin.”
But after 1977 Genentech began to produce the first genetically-engineered, synthetic human insulin. This led to the first “dramatic increase” in the price of insulin. Since 1982 Eli Lilly has marketing it as Humulin.
In 1996 the development of the first insulin analog, lispro, led to another increase Continue reading