“Diabetes has become the most expensive disease in the United States, reaching $327 billion a year in health care costs, $15 billion of which comes from insulin. And the cost of insulin keeps climbing: It tripled in price from 2002 to 2013 and nearly doubled again between 2012 and 2016. For instance, in 1996, a vial of Humalog, a standard insulin produced by Eli Lilly, cost $21. Today, the list price is $324, an increase of more than 1,400%. Without insurance, costs from diabetes care can tally up to thousands of dollars per month. As a result, 25% of the 7.4 million Americans on insulin have started to ration the drug, which can result in deadly consequences.
Open Insulin estimates it will take at least $10,000 to purchase the equipment, including pumps, plumbing, pH and oxygen sensors, and a sterilization system, to produce insulin on a large scale. But once the system is up and running, all you have to do is provide the yeast with sugar and growth medium, which cost next to nothing. And a 10-liter culture of yeast can make enough insulin for 10,000 people. Based on these rough calculations, Di Franco estimates that an insulin factory for 10,000 people could be created with an initial investment of just $1 per person.
Jean Peccoud, the chair of synthetic biology at Colorado State University who has written about the project, is more optimistic. ‘A lot of the pieces are missing, and I don’t know what the solution looks like, but it’s not unreasonable to think about developing it,’ he says. ‘The technology is there to make it possible to think a little bit outside of the box.'”
The Open Insulin Project: A Case Study for ‘Biohacked’ Medicines (2018) by Gallegos et al via Trends in Biotechnology.