World Health Organization to begin testing and approving generic versions of insulin

Getty Images

The World Health Organization (WHO) will test and certify generic insulin in low-income nations amid price hikes and shortages, according to The New York Times.

Brand-name companies Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi currently dominate the insulin market and prices have steadily risen over the last two decades. The WHO hopes approving generics will encourage competition and lower prices.

{mosads}Under the “prequalification” process, United Nations agencies and medical charities such as Doctors Without Borders would be allowed to purchase approved generic insulin. In countries without strong regulating bodies for the drug industry, the process would pick up the slack to ensure they were safe for use.

The program is modeled after a similar one the WHO began in 2002 to increase access to HIV medications during a period where AIDS was killing nearly 7,000 Africans daily while Western drugmakers charged up to $15,000 a year for the drugs.

Since then, nations with burgeoning generic industries such as China and India have stepped up production of generic HIV drugs, and nearly 80 percent of people taking HIV drugs worldwide are taking generics approved by the WHO, according to the Times.

“Four hundred million people are living with diabetes, the amount of insulin available is too low and the price is too high, so we really need to do something,” Emer Cooke, the WHO’s head of regulation of medicines and health technologies, said in a statement.

A Novo Nordisk spokesman said the company “welcomes the new prequalification program, which reflects an increased focus on diabetes by the W.H.O,” according to the Times.

“Any program that makes access to insulin easier for people is important,” said an Eli Lilly spokesperson, while Sanofi said the company had not yet reviewed the proposal but “we definitely support any solution that makes access easier for patients.”

A WHO survey of 24 countries, most of them low- or middle-income, indicated 40 percent of health care facilities did not have insulin on hand and, in many cases, a single vial in a private pharmacy cost 15 to 20 percent of a typical worker’s take-home wages.

Tags generic drugs Insulin World Health Organization
See all Hill.TV See all Video