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J Pharm Policy Pract. 2016 Jul 19;10:3. doi: 10.1186/s40545-016-0072-8. eCollection 2017.

The global intellectual property ecosystem for insulin and its public health implications: an observational study.

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Department of Global Health, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA 02118 USA.
Population Health Program, Faculties of Medicine and of Law, University of Ottawa, One Stewart St, Ottawa, ON K1N 6N5 Canada.



Lack of access to insulin and poor health outcomes are issues for both low and high income countries. This has been accompanied by a shift from relatively inexpensive human insulin to its more expensive analogs, marketed by three to four main global players. Nonetheless, patent-based market exclusivities are beginning to expire there for the first generation insulin analogs. This paper adds a global dimension to information on the U.S. patent landscape for insulin by reviewing the patent status of insulins with emphasis on the situation outside the US and Europe.


Using the term "insulin", we searched for patents listed on the United States Food and Drug Administration's (USFDA) Orange Book and the Canadian Online Drug Product Database Online Query and its Patent Register. With this information, we expanded the search globally using the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) PatentScope database, the European Patent Office's INPADOC database and various country-specific Patent Offices.


Patent protected insulins marketed in the U.S. and other countries are facing an imminent patent-expiration "cliff' yet the three companies that dominate the global insulin market are continuing to file for patents in and outside the U.S, but very rarely in Africa. Only a few local producers in the so-called "pharmerging" markets (e.g., Brazil, India, China) are filing for global patent protection on their own insulins. There is moderate, but statistically significant association between patent filings and diabetes disease burden.


The global market dominance by a few companies of analog over human insulin will likely continue even though patents on the current portfolio of insulin analogs will expire very soon. Multinationals are continuing to file for more insulin patents in the bigger markets with large disease burdens and a rapidly emerging middle class. Off-patent human insulins can effectively manage diabetes. A practical way forward would be find (potential) generic manufacturers globally and nudge them towards opportunities to diversify their national insulin markets with acceptable off-patent products for export.


Generic medicine; Intellectual property; Patent; Pharmaceutical policy

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