Today’s lookback blog post is a post entitled “Why is Insulin Still So Expensive.”
The March 19, 2015 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine published an article entitled, “Why Is There No Generic Insulin? Historical Origins of a Modern Problem” that stated:
- 21 million Americans have diabetes
- 6 million (i.e. 29 percent of people with diabetes) take insulin
- The monthly cost for insulin without insurance is $120 to $400
The article describes how this drug was originally extracted from pigs and cows and as a result, had problems with impurity. Over time, the purification process improved, the absorption rates could be adjusted (to better regulate blood sugar) and eventually it could be ‘manufactured’ by genetically engineered bacteria, making it safer and purer. However, each of these improvements extended the life of the patent, and older versions were not even available on the market.The monthly cost for insulin without insurance is $120 to $400 Click To Tweet
This dynamic may change in the near future as the Food and Drug Administration has approved the making of ‘biosimilar’ medications. Not to get technical, but because insulin is a ‘large biologic molecule’ it is essentially impossible to manufacture a ‘generic’ version of it that is exactly the same. However, ‘similar’ insulins that still act in the body in a similar fashion can be produced. It is these ‘biosimilar’ insulins that are now allowed to be produced. I am not aware of any that are currently available. The thought is that when they do become available, that competition will subsequently bring down the price of insulin.