Bad dog: the high cost of insulin

Over the weekend, my dog Ivy swiped a “just-opened” vial of insulin and promptly deposited it outside in a hole she dug. By the time I realized the vial was missing and went looking for it, I was too late. The insulin was outside overnight and the vial was upside down in the grass and dirt. There was no way I could draw insulin from it without the possibility of contamination. What really stinks is that we don’t have an extra stash of insulin, so I’ve had to call the insurance company, explain the problem and get approval for an early refill. I am pretty fortunate. Others in my situation may have had to purchase a vial of insulin without coverage from the insurance company, which could potentially set them back almost $300!

There has been a lot of media attention given to rising drug costs and insulin is no exception. The cost of Humalog, the short term insulin my son uses in his pump, has increased 150% since 2009.  It is not unusual for adults living with type 1 to use three or more vials of insulin a month, especially if they are pumping and rely only on the short acting insulin. But, as a Washington Post writer discovers in her investigative series on the cost of insulin, weighing the cost of insulin against the benefits of new formulas suggests the increasing cost may not be justified.

Read more about this issue in the Washington Post.


April 15th…a day that changed the world

April 15th is widely known as TAX DAY, but it is also the day that insulin was made available to treat Type 1 Diabetes.

Dr. Charles Best and Sir Frederick Banting
Dr. Charles Best and Sir Frederick Banting

German scientist Paul Langerhans discovered in 1869 that insulin was produced by the pancreas and it was largely responsible for processing carbohydrates.

In 1922, Dr. Frederick Banting and medical student Charles Best, using this knowledge, extracted insulin from a dog’s pancreas and injected it into a 14 year old boy with Type 1 Diabetes who had shriveled to 65 lbs. After a second injection two weeks later, the boy began to gain weight and his blood glucose returned to a normal level. A few months later, the two doctors visited a children’s ward for Type 1 Diabetics. Most of the children were in comas and near death. As the two injected insulin one child at a time, the patients began to wake from their comas. The nurses in the ward described the scene as a miracle.

Before and after insulin therapy

Later that year, Banting and Best began to work with Eli Lilly pharmaceutical company to refine the extracted animal insulin. By spring of 1923, Lilly was able to market the miracle drug world wide, saving thousands of lives that year, and every year thereafter. Banting accepted the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1923 and shared his prize money with Best.

It wasn’t until 1978 that a synthetic version of insulin was invented by  Genentech, improving insulin absorption and again saving the lives of millions in the years since.

Every day, I marvel at the miracles of science that have saved my son’s life. I am so very thankful for the innovations and perseverance of those working in the medical technology industries.  This post celebrates all the innovators, past, present and future, who work tirelessly for a cure.