[Skip to Navigation]
Views 3,074
Citations 0
Health Care Policy and Law
June 1, 2020

Expensive Insulin—The Epicenter of a Large, Life-Threatening Problem

Author Affiliations
  • 1Section of Pediatric Endocrinology, Department of Pediatrics, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut
  • 2Section of Endocrinology, Department of Internal Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut
JAMA Intern Med. 2020;180(7):931-933. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.1299

For millions of people with diabetes, including those with type 1 diabetes, access to insulin can be a matter of life and death. Shortly after discovering insulin in 1921, Banting, Best, and Collip sold the original patent to the University of Toronto (in Canada) for just $1, with the intention of giving affordable access to this life-saving drug to all individuals who needed it.1 In the 1980s, the development of recombinant DNA technology allowed drug manufacturers to inexpensively produce a seemingly unlimited supply of biosynthetic insulin using the cellular machinery of bacteria and yeast.2 Today, although a vial of insulin is estimated to cost no more than US $3 to $6 to produce,3 its skyrocketing price has threatened access to the drug. A vial of Humalog (insulin lispro), which cost $21 in 1996, now costs $250 to $400.4 Insulin pricing exemplifies the problem with a health care system that allows charging an exorbitant amount of money for life-saving medications.

Add or change institution
Limit 200 characters
Limit 25 characters
Conflicts of Interest Disclosure

Identify all potential conflicts of interest that might be relevant to your comment.

Conflicts of interest comprise financial interests, activities, and relationships within the past 3 years including but not limited to employment, affiliation, grants or funding, consultancies, honoraria or payment, speaker's bureaus, stock ownership or options, expert testimony, royalties, donation of medical equipment, or patents planned, pending, or issued.

Err on the side of full disclosure.

If you have no conflicts of interest, check "No potential conflicts of interest" in the box below. The information will be posted with your response.

Not all submitted comments are published. Please see our commenting policy for details.

Limit 140 characters
Limit 3600 characters or approximately 600 words
    1 Comment for this article
    Traditional Insulin
    Jay Caplan, B.S. | commercial - manufacture
    Not familiar with diabetes, but I note that traditional insulin - short and intermediate acting Novolin - is $25/vial of 1000 units with GoodRx at Walmart, $14 with cheapest Part D Medicare plan.

    Isn't this a case of saying everyone should have the newest and best branded drug, without paying its full price ? If not affordable, could most most patients do well on traditional insulin ?