Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Body Politic

The travesty of expensive insulin

BMJ 2016; 353 doi: (Published 02 June 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;353:i2933
  1. Nigel Hawkes, freelance journalist
  1. London
  1. nigel.hawkes1{at}

A bad precedent for future drug pricing

Almost a century after its discovery insulin remains out of reach of millions of people, against the wishes of its discoverers. It’s simply too expensive a drug for a disease that makes no distinctions of class, colour, or birthplace.

Many people agree that this is shameful.1 2 It also sets a terrible precedent for newer biological drugs and raises awkward questions about the patents system and drug market. Many other drugs even a quarter of insulin’s age are now available as cheap generics. With insulin, constant reinvention and marginal improvements, combined with barriers to market entry, have enabled a few companies to maintain their grip and generate huge profits. It’s as if Bayer still owned the rights to aspirin and charged us a fiver a pill.

US election

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