When Frederick Banting invented insulin in 1923, he refused to put his name on the patent, thinking it was unethical for a doctor to profit from such a discovery. He believed that insulin belonged to the public.
His co-inventors, James Collip and Charles Best, sold the insulin patent to the University of Toronto for only $1. These great men wanted everyone who needed the drug to be able to afford it.
Sadly, things have taken a different turn in modern times. Over the past decade, the price of insulin has only continued to rise.
For individuals with employer-paid health insurance, per-person spending on the drug has doubled between 2012 and 2016. The copay cost can vary from $30 to $50 per vial, although it could be much higher for people on a high-deductible health plan .
It’s even worse for people without insurance. Today, the average list price for a vial of the medication is $300, and some need six of them per month.
Over 8 million Americans with diabetes depend on insulin for survival, and its high cost has forced one in every four people with the condition to ration or skip doses.
Some are forced to go to Canada, where drug prices are more heavily regulated and where a carton of insulin retails for only $20.
The cost of insulin is on the rise because pharmaceutical companies have the liberty to charge what they like. America has very lenient policies on drug pricing compared to the rest of the world, so companies take full advantage.
“They are doing it because they can, and it’s scary because it happens in all kinds of different drugs and drug classes,” Jing Luo, a researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told Vox in 2017.
In England, the government has an agency that directly negotiates with pharmaceutical companies. The government sets a maximum price it will pay for the drug, and if the companies disagree, they simply lose out on the whole market. This puts drugmakers at a disadvantage and drives down the price of medicines.
Unfortunately, the US—which has long taken a free-market approach to pharmaceuticals—doesn’t do that.
The skyrocketing cost of insulin has put such a strain on American families that the Biden administration imposed a $35 cap on the drug in its Build Back Better bill. However, that bill is currently on hold in the Senate.
But relief from high insulin prices may soon be in sight for some Americans with diabetes.
Earlier this month, Civica Rx, a nonprofit generic drugmaker supported by hospitals, philanthropies, and insurers, announced that it plans to manufacture and sell insulin for a maximum of $30 per vial. The company hopes it will be available at pharmacies as early as 2024.
Before being launched to the market, Civica Rx must finish the construction of its 140,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Virginia. The drug must also receive FDA approval.
Civica Rx predicts its products could make up about 30% of the US insulin market.
“That’s actually a fairly fast development time for a product like this. For Civica as a nonprofit, we’re going to manufacture these insulins and sell them for close for what it costs us to make them – without any huge markup,” said Civica’s Allan Coukell.
The company also has a plan in place to prevent any retail markups.
“We’ll actually have a transparent pricing policy where we say nobody should pay more than—for example, for a vial, $30—at the pharmacy counter. And we’re going to say that right on the vial: ‘this is the maximum price anybody should pay’ so that there’s no downstream markups that unfairly target the consumer,” Coukell explained.
We commend Civica Rx for stepping up and doing their part to help more people with diabetes afford this life-saving medication.
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