Medicine/DrugsTreatment of Type 1 Diabetes

Selling a Lifetime of Insulin for $3

letter_514_selling_lifetime_insulin_300pxAs if balancing blood sugar levels was not hard enough, people affected by Type 1 also must balance their checkbooks as they try to afford life-sustaining insulin. That stress is aggravated when drug companies make it clear they view insulin as a cash cow, either by raising insulin prices much faster than the cost of production or by engaging in protracted legal battles to keep long-acting insulin formations from going generic.

US-1469994_300pxIt didn’t start that way. In fact, the first “sale” of insulin was for just $3 (Canadian), not for a vial, but the very intellectual property of the drug itself. Frederick Banting, Charles Best, and James Collip, the team that first discovered and refined insulin therapy, agreed to receive $1 each in exchange for giving their patent rights to the Board of Governors of the University of Toronto in 1923.

This was a bold move, and not without controversy at the time, according to an article posted by the University of Toronto Centre for Innovation Law and Policy. At the turn of the 20th century, it was considered beneath scientists and universities to patent medical innovation at all. However, Banting and company believed that they needed to patent their formulation of insulin to stop pharmaceutical companies from rushing to patent an inferior, less potent form of the drug. The university immediately gave pharmaceutical companies the right to manufacture insulin, royalty-free, and to improve upon the formulation and patent any subsequent improvements.

[adrotate banner=”58″]

This may seem like a move that lets the genie out of the bottle, but it’s important to put it into historical context. Mass producing insulin was an incredibly difficult process at the time, and fraught with peril. The original team had trouble recreating the process to make uniformly potent insulin, and at one point it was even feared that they had lost the ability to do the process at all. Meanwhile, they knew this drug was a matter of life and death for thousands of children who were otherwise dying from Type 1. In such circumstances, it seems to make sense that the best action would be to get the drug in the hands of those who could best manufacture the drug on a large scale.

[adrotate banner=”61″]

It worked, as within two years, Eli Lilly and Company was able to produce 60 million vials of insulin, according to Dr. Irl Hirsch, a professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine (as told to health blogger David Mendosa).

It wasn’t long before drug companies had figured out a way to turn a good profit on insulin, even by possibly illegal means. By 1941, Eli Lilly and Company and two other pharmaceutical companies were indicted for an alleged insulin price-fixing scheme at the time, according to a Chicago-Tribune article; it was a charge that Lilly would settle in a “no contest” agreement.

The price of insulin began to climb sharply once drug companies devised how to make synthetic insulin in the late seventies, and there has been little relief since that time. It is now a billion-dollar industry. Unfortunately, as the legal battles over long-acting insulin formulations demonstrate, it will be difficult in the free market to bring insulin prices back in line with the first altruistic principles that Banting and company demonstrated when they sold their idea of insulin for a dollar apiece. One can only hope that those behind future diabetes breakthroughs take a similar open-source attitude to their discoveries as the creators of insulin therapy did*.

*To read about a movement that seems to be following this open source ideology, go to or follow the CGM in the Cloud movement at

Have Type 2 diabetes or know someone who does? Try Type2Nation, our sister publication.

Craig Idlebrook is a past editor for Insulin Nation, Type 2 Nation, and Información Sobre Diabetes. He is now the community engagement and content manager for T1D Exchange.

Related Articles


  1. hjyrin,Thanks for ones marvelous posting! I actually enjoyed reading it, you will be a great author.I will always bookmark your blog and will gkrpdzti,come back from now on. I want to encourage that you continue your great writing, have a nice afternoon!

  2. isrhuk,Thanks a lot for providing us with this recipe of Cranberry Brisket. I’ve been wanting to make this for a long time but I couldn’t find the right recipe. Thanks to your help here, I can now make this dish easily.

  3. noxngxzobn,If you want a hassle free movies downloading then you must need an app like showbox which may provide best ever user friendly interface.

  4. I want to to thank you for this good read!! I absolutely loved every bit of it. I have you saved as a favorite to look at new things you post…

  5. I’m impressed, I have to admit. Rarely do I encounter a blog that’s equally educative and engaging, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head. The issue is something that too few folks are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy I found this during my search for something regarding this.

  6. Hi, I do believe this is a great website. I stumbledupon it 😉 I am going to come back once again since I saved as a favorite it. Money and freedom is the best way to change, may you be rich and continue to help others.

  7. If George really wanted to get Lillard back, his best option is to just wait until next season and hope he can get revenge on the Trail Blazers. It takes time to come back after losing like that.

  8. I feel this is one of the such a lot significant information for
    me. And i’m satisfied reading your article. But should observation on few normal things, The website taste is perfect,
    the articles is in reality nice : D. Just right process, cheers

  9. I had no questions, and little interest in being in the class at all. Attendance was required by the fertility clinic I was working witha clinic I hadnt researched or purposefully chosen, the clinic I had ended up with because it was affiliated with the team of doctors treating my newly diagnosed brain cancer.

  10. If there is a change, it will come at center. Andrew Bogut, who played so well in Games 3 and 4, struggled in the 129-121 loss in Game 5 on Wednesday. He had six points, five rebounds and two assists. He played 17 minutes and was minus-15 in the plus/minus.

  11. Look, Im not going to judge whether or not she thought it was sufficient, said Biden. I said privately what I said publicly: Im sorry she was treated the way she was treated, I wish we could have figured out a better way to get this thing done, I did everything in my power to do what I thought was within the rules to be able to stop things.

  12. Thanks on your marvelous posting! I really enjoyed reading it, you can be
    a great author. I will always bookmark your blog and
    may come back someday. I want to encourage that you continue your
    great work, have a nice morning!

  13. 5/10/2019 I’m pleased by the manner in which handles this type of subject matter. Generally on point, often polemic, without fail well-researched and more often than not quite thought-provoking.

  14. I’ll immediately snatch your rss feed as I can not in finding
    your email subscription link or e-newsletter service.
    Do you have any? Kindly let me recognize in order that I may just subscribe.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button