At first, the researchers who discovered insulin agonized about whether to patent the drug at all. It was 1921, and the team of biochemists and physicians based in Toronto was troubled by the idea of profiting from a medicine that had such widespread human value, one that could transform diabetes from a death sentence into a manageable disease.The magic of the market is a myth when it comes to drugs.
Ultimately, they decided to file for a patent — and promptly sold it to the University of Toronto for $3, or $1 for each person listed. It was the best way, they believed, to ensure that no company would have a monopoly and patients would have affordable access to a safe, effective drug.
“Above all, these were discoverers who were trying to do a great humanitarian thing,” said historian Michael Bliss, “and they hoped their discovery was a kind of gift to humanity.”
But the drug also has become a gift to the pharmaceutical industry. A version of insulin that carried a list price of $17 a vial in 1997 is priced at $138 today. Another that launched two decades ago with a sticker price of $21 a vial has been increased to $255.
We need to stop evergreening minor changes in drugs, and we need to adopt the price controls used by the national health systems of other industrialized nations.
This is insane.