In the 1920s, Frederick Banting, one of the scientists who co-discovered insulin (and won a Nobel Prize for it) said, “Insulin does not belong to me, it belongs to the world.” He and the other scientists sold the patent for making insulin to the University of Toronto for $3.
And yet today, this drug, which is needed to keep millions of people with diabetes alive, costs 700% more than it did two decades ago and many people can no longer afford it. What happened? It comes down to two reasons: a "lack of pricing regulations and lack of competition," says James Dinneen in his article, "There’s No Excuse for the Insulin Crisis."
There's no law stopping the three major insulin manufacturers (Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi) from charging whatever they want for the drugs they make. And since diabetics will die without it, insulin makers gouge them for all their worth. So why isn't there a low-cost generic version? The manufacturers came up with a clever way to stop that from happening.
From the article:
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That lack of competition isn’t an accident. Though the original patents for most of the insulin formulations on the market expired years ago, the big three insulin manufacturers have extended their monopolies by patenting incremental changes to their products and manufacturing processes. Those patents can then be used to tie-up potential generic competitors in long, costly legal battles. In addition, they have been shielded from competition from generics by stringent federal regulations around “biologics” like insulin, which is a complex molecule produced by living cells.