open insulin project

Is the Open Insulin Project the Key to Cheaper Insulin?

Insulin is a centuries-old drug used to control diabetes, but prices continue to climb every year. In fact, the cost of insulin per unit in the United States has more than quadrupled since the turn of the century.

One company is determined to make insulin more affordable by providing a blueprint for insulin production on a micro scale. In other words, one company, the Open Insulin Project, is taking the power out of the three pharmaceutical companies that produce insulin, and putting it into the hands of pharmacies, clinics, hospitals, and anyone else with the means to create the life-sustaining drug.

About the Open Insulin Project

Founded in the San Francisco Bay Area by a group of “biohackers,” the Open Insulin Project aims to reduce the cost of insulin “by developing a protocol for its production on the micro scale.” This project is open sourced, meaning the company provides blueprints on how to create your own insulin if you have the money and proper equipment to do so.


Who owns insulin production?

There are currently three pharmaceutical companies that create insulin: Eli Lilly and Company, Sanofi, and Novo Nordisk. Unlike many other drugs, insulin generics aren’t much cheaper than brand-name insulin. In fact, generic insulin is also owned by Eli Lilly and is only discounted at 15 percent rather than the typical 80 percent for generics.

Open Insulin has the potential to undercut the lucrative drug industry’s chokehold on this life-sustaining drug. If major pharmaceutical companies refused to make insulin affordable, this group decided they could find a way to make it themselves. The Open Insulin blueprint can create insulin that’s a fraction of the price.

According to the company’s website, Open Insulin wants to be the “first freely available, open protocol for insulin production.” Anthony Di Franco, co-founder of the Open Insulin Project said, “Engineering with biology has advanced to the point that we know how to make the organism do most of the work. That means the work we’re left with is cleaning up after it and purifying what comes out.”

How is insulin made?

The first wave of insulin was harvested from pigs and cattle, and then refined for human consumption. This changed in the 1970s when scientists started growing insulin in labs by first injecting bacteria with human insulin to produce more of the hormone. Drugs made with living organisms like this are called biologic drugs.

The Open Insulin blueprint would be available to pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals who wish to produce their own insulin at a cheaper cost. The goal isn’t for the project to produce insulin themselves, but rather to create a platform for the creation of insulin that can be democratized and scaled down.


Is it safe?

You might be wondering if insulin produced in micro scale like this is even safe, and the answer is yes. In fact, small-scale production of insulin is actually safer than the current large-scale system because small batches make it easier to track bad batches if necessary. It’s also safer because it removes cold chain management from the equation, or the method by which insulin is kept cold during shipping.

This insulin production shake-up could be the answer millions of insulin users are searching for.