The Insulin Price Crises: What Is Patent Evergreening?

Aug 17, 2021 by David Wood

The Insulin Price Crises: What Is Patent Evergreening?
Patents are important for innovation. They act as a safeguard for inventors to help assure they receive adequate compensation for their work before competition enters the market. This time period varies by product but can last up to 20 years.

But patents can also be used to repress innovation and create monopolies. 

One of the most striking examples of this can be found in the insulin market. Here, big companies engage in a process called patent evergreening that allows them to safeguard their insulins for well over the maximum time period covered by any one patent.

According to an I-MAK investigational report, patent evergreening is a leading cause of today’s insulin pricing crises.

“Today, drugmakers are filing dozens or even hundreds of patents, resulting in nearly double the length of protection, blocking competition and keeping cheaper versions of medicines off the market. This abusive practice, known as ‘evergreening’, or what drugmakers market as incremental innovation and improvements, sits at the heart of the drug price crisis in the United States.” 

By making tiny changes to their insulin products, these big companies can apply for new patents to extend the protection period for their product indefinitely. 

In the insulin world, Lantus is one of the biggest offenders of patent evergreening. The product has been on the market since 2000 but is currently protected for 37 years thanks to new patents.

Sanofi, the company that owns Lantus, has filed for over 70 patents on the drug since 2000. Of those, the US government has granted 49—ensuring that Sanofi will have the undisputed power to set the price of this life-saving drug until at least 2037.

Considering that the price of Lantus jumped an astonishing 114% between 2012 and 2018, we can’t even imagine what it will cost by the time the patents run out. Assuming they ever do.

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