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People living with diabetes, activists, faith leaders, and healthcare advocates rallied in front of the New York Stock Exchange to commemorate World Diabetes Day as part of a National Day of Action called by the Lower Drug Prices Now Campaign on November 14, 2019 in New York City. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

People living with diabetes, activists, faith leaders, and healthcare advocates rallied in front of the New York Stock Exchange to commemorate World Diabetes Day as part of a National Day of Action called by the Lower Drug Prices Now Campaign on November 14, 2019 in New York City. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

'Let's Do Insulin Next,' Says Ocasio-Cortez After Biden Backs IP Waiver to Boost Covid-19 Vaccine Access

"We can do it with all lifesaving pharmaceuticals," tweeted one group.

Jessica Corbett

After the Biden administration on Wednesday caved to global pressure and endorsed waiving intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines, progressives across the United States called for taking a similar approach to other lifesaving drugs and treatments made less accessible by Big Pharma's greed.

"Let's do insulin next," tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a self-described "unapologetic advocate of Medicare for All" who also "believes that all people must have access to safe and affordable prescription medications."

Arizona state Sen. Martín Quezada (D-29) concurred, responding to the congresswoman: "Yes! Insulin please!"

CNBC noted Wednesday that "stocks of major pharmaceutical companies that have produced vaccines, including Moderna, BioNTech, and Pfizer, dropped sharply after news of the potential waivers first broke. Pfizer ended its trading day flat, while Moderna lost 6.1%; Johnson & Johnson shed a modest 0.4%."

Acknowledging the stock shifts, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) tweeted, "It's almost as if Big Pharma relies on keeping lifesaving medicine inaccessible."

Reporting last year on how the U.S. patent system is a barrier to cheaper insulin, Healthline explained that "drug manufacturers have repeatedly made lots of little changes to their existing insulin products in order to apply for new patents on them."

"This process, called 'evergreening' has discouraged competitors from developing new versions of existing insulins because they'd have to chase so many changes," Healthline continued. "This has slowed down innovation, along with 'pay for delay' deals, in which insulin manufacturers pay competitors to not copy specific drugs for a period of time."

Current conditions are far from what the discoverers of insulin envisioned nearly a century ago, as Vox detailed in 2019:

When inventor Frederick Banting discovered insulin in 1923, he refused to put his name on the patent. He felt it was unethical for a doctor to profit from a discovery that would save lives. Banting's co-inventors, James Collip and Charles Best, sold the insulin patent to the University of Toronto for a mere $1. They wanted everyone who needed their medication to be able to afford it.

Today, Banting and his colleagues would be spinning in their graves: Their drug, which many of the 30 million Americans with diabetes rely on, has become the poster child for pharmaceutical price gouging.

The cost of the four most popular types of insulin has tripled over the past decade, and the out-of-pocket prescription costs patients now face have doubled. By 2016, the average price per month rose to $450—and costs continue to rise, so much so that as many as one in four people with diabetes are now skimping on or skipping lifesaving doses.

While the pharmaceutical industry on Wednesday blasted the Biden administration's decision to support a vaccine waiver, some supporters of the move noted the approach could be expanded to all lifesaving pharmaceuticals.

"Credit where credit is due," immigrant rights advocate Erika Andiola tweeted in response to the waiver announcement. "This is the right thing to do and the Biden administration decided to do it regardless of the pressure from Big Pharma. We need more of this. Putting lives over profit."


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