The insane, surprising history behind insulin’s crazy price (and some hopeful signs in the wild)

The price of insulin is iconic — doubling, tripling, multiplying like crazy, for medicine Type 1 diabetics can’t live without.

To understand it, we went back almost 100 years and dug up a story of sweaty Canadian researchers — swatting away flies and doing business with probable dog-nappers, on the way to a Nobel Prize… and a deal with corporate pharma.

Charles Best and Frederick Banting on the roof of the University of Toronto medical building, petting a dog they probably picked up from some shady character on the street … and whom they would soon sacrifice in the name of science. (Photo courtesy University of Toronto.)

We also found hopeful signs out there today, including the folks at the Open Insulin Project in Oakland, California, who are working on their own recipe for insulin, which they hope to share as widely as possible.

Anthony Di Franco holds a 3-D printed model of an insulin molecule at Counter Culture Labs in Oakland. (Photo courtesy Anthony Di Franco.)

If it sounds crazy — well, we talked with a listener who has hacked together an artificial pancreas from outdated equipment, raw computer parts, and open-source software, all with the help of her fellow “rogue, cowboy hackers,” who are growing in number. So, you never know.

Terri Flynn of Arizona shows off the home-made rig that regulates her blood-sugar and insulin levels according to her specifications. (Photo courtesy Terri Flynn.)
Terri Lyman of Arizona shows off the home-made rig that regulates her blood-sugar and insulin levels according to her specifications. (Photo courtesy Terri Flynn.)

Meanwhile, activists with T1 International — an advocacy group run by Type 1 diabetics — are lobbying Congress, like the woman who leads off our story.

Adeline Umubyeyi, a T1 International activist, models a t-shirt from the group’s Washington, DC chapter president.
Adeline Umubyeyi, a T1 International activist, models a t-shirt from the group’s Washington, DC chapter president. (Photo courtesy Adeline Umubyeyi.)

They’re also organizing “caravans to Canada” (as our colleagues at Kaiser Health News recently documented with PBS News Hour

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