A team of bio-hackers has been working on producing their own insulin in a bid to drive down the costs of the drug in America.
Since 2002, the cost of insulin has tripled in the US. This can present a significant problem many people in the US who need to cover the cost of insulin through health insurance, their employer or partly or fully out of pocket.
The increase in price is a complex process to understand as it involves pharmaceutical companies, wholesalers, pharmacies, health insurers or employers, pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and the people with diabetes who need the insulin.
The result of the system is that people with without insurance, with high coinsurance or with deductibles are paying higher prices each time the ‘list price’ of insulin rises.
The large price increases have driven some people to ration their supply or buy insulin from the black market.
To counteract this and take on the current system, Anthony Di Franco co-founded the Open Insulin Project. Based in California, his team are working to make small-batch insulin production possible.
Speaking to CNBC News, Anthony, who has type 1 diabetes, said: “Insulin is not all that hard to make. We are developing a technique that is based on pretty standard ways of producing and purifying proteins.”
His ultimate goal is to ensure that hospitals and pharmacies can eventually make insulin themselves.
He added: “We think if there were thousands of manufacturers, instead of just three, then it would be much easier to get, it would reach more people who need it and the price would be much lower.”
Nicole Smith-Holt lost her 26-year-old son Alec to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) when he began rationing his insulin because he could no longer afford to pay for it.
She said: “I think ultimately, the responsibility lies with the insurance companies. The pricing has got so expensive, so unaffordable for all diabetics. I don’t think they ever realise that so many people will be paying out of pocket.”
Novo Nordisk, Sanofi and Eli Lilly are the leading insulin manufacturers.
In a statement, Eli Lilly said: “There aren’t many insulin manufacturers because discovering, developing and manufacturing insulin is scientifically and technically very precise, difficult and requires billions of dollars in long-term investments. Companies have to make a long-term commitment to be in this industry. Not many are able or willing to do so.”
The subject continues to be debated in American, with members of the US Congress meeting earlier this week to discuss insulin affordability and high prescription drug prices.

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