In the United States, insulin can cost up to eight times more than in other countries across the world. Open Insulin Foundation is trying to change that.
In 2018, the average price of insulin was $6.94 in Australia, $12.00 in Canada, and $7.52 in the United Kingdom. In comparison, Americans paid an average of $98.70. In other parts of the world, the supply of insulin is virtually non-existent. For some individuals, this may be a matter of life and death. Therefore, Open Insulin Foundation is working towards a solution that makes access more equitable for individuals across the country. Through their research and outreach, they hope to create an open-source model for insulin production that focuses on sustainable, small-scale manufacturing and more freely available alternatives to production. Open Insulin Foundation's work gained traction after a mom posted a now-viral TikTok video where she spoke about how she could not afford her son's insulin, Freethink reports.
"I don't even know what to say," said Anthony Di Franco, the founder of Open Insulin Foundation. "The deadliest conflict in history is playing out and no one cares. Very few people really have any concrete ideas about how to solve these problems. At the level of the technical fundamentals, it's clear that we can do this. And if we can, we must." By "this," Di Franco was referring to reverse engineering insulin then sharing the instructions with the rest of the world, particularly those who are unable to afford insulin due to artificial price inflation in the United States.
The founder was inspired to launch the organization when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. At the time, he was surprised. He shared, "As time went on, I became more aware my life was actually hanging by a very thin thread." Di Franco knew that the costs of producing insulin have remained for the past several years "remarkably low," at $1.50 to $5 for a single vial. In stark comparison, prices have skyrocketed.
This, he explained, is because of how the supply chain works--or does not work--in the United States. At present, three companies (Novo Nordisk, Lilly, and Sanofi) own 90 percent of the world's insulin, and all three have matched each others' price increases. "Producers of medicine don't really face competition," Di Franco remarked. "Our work definitely aims to bring an end to that situation where people can produce medicine without facing any competition." Although the big three manufacturers have introduced their own version of generics, bringing down costs, they continue to be unaffordable for those who need insulin most.
Open Insulin Foundation's plan to disrupt the market begins with figuring out how to make insulin in the first place, which lead scientist Yann Huon de Kermadec explained was "particularly tricky." "You have to extract the protein, purify the protein..." He shared. "This is only the beginning." Nonetheless, if the team's plan works, their insulin could be 98 percent cheaper than what is available on the market right now. The Food and Drug Administration's recent policy changes, which help open the market up, have helped the organization stay on what they called "a good track." While they do not envision individuals making DYI insulin in their kitchen, as a small team, Open Insulin relies on working with community labs across the world to make their vision a reality. Di Franco explained, "Our plan is to have a system for local production that can operate anywhere in the world where there is a need for it." If you would like to donate to their cause, you can do so here.