OPEN-SOURCE INSULIN: BIOHACKERS AIMING FOR DISTRIBUTED PRODUCTION

Science may have figured out how to produce insulin for as low as $6/vial, but America’s stupid pharmaceutical industry may fight tooth and nail to keep the prices high.

Dumb.

Now that OIF has the science figured out, the next step is to scale it appropriately. In a presentation from 2020, Louise Lassalle, the group’s communication manager, gave a breakdown of the equipment needed to make insulin on a medium scale — in bigger batches than are possible on the benchtop, but far, far smaller than what commercial biologics plants are capable of. It’s not cheap — about $1 million worth of gear. But, that investment would produce enough insulin for 14,000 diabetics, meaning that a functioning, community-level insulin factory could conceivably be funded for about $70 per person. And that factory would produce insulin at around $6 a vial, taking into account everything from raw materials to salaries, rent, and utilities.

Granted, there are huge and potentially insurmountable legal and regulatory hurdles with this plan. It may well be that the insulin industry, with a vested interest in keeping prices high — at least in the United States — will let fly their legal dogs of war, and shut this group down if they ever get close to realizing their goal. And they’ll certainly have to deal with the Food and Drug Administration if they ever expect to actually use their insulin on humans. On the other hand, the efforts of the Open Insulin Foundation and other biohackers working on alternative sources of insulin might just win in the long run, by showing that making insulin just isn’t as hard as we’ve perhaps been lead to believe, and that maybe scaling everything up to massive proportions isn’t always in the best interests of the consumer, even if it’s profitable business.

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