Just under a century ago, a team of Canadian scientists made the breakthrough that led to widely available insulin as an effective treatment for diabetes, which then was a deadly disease. The researchers, who won the Nobel Prize, also made a jaw-dropping gesture to ensure their discovery would benefit the afflicted: They handed over their lucrative patent on insulin to the University of Toronto to ensure the fearsome illness would be conquered.
The university, alas, turned quickly to commercial drug makers, licensing them to produce the life-saving medication. And flash forward to now, and, after years of rising anger, a group of diabetes patients has sued three drug makers, asserting they systematically and fraudulently price-gouged them for their must-have treatment.
Insulin has become a $24 billion global market, with myriad profit-grabbing hands of distributors and supposed cost-controllers moving it from makers to patients, each middleman taking his piece. Patients say they’re aggravated that the various Big Pharma players appear to work in concert to send insulin’s price, in lockstep, skyrocketing. One vendor’s product carried a sticker price of $21 per vial two decades ago. It now costs $255 for the same amount.