Pandemic Concerns: Will We Face a Shortage of Insulin?

Pandemic Concerns: Will We Face a Shortage of Insulin?

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a domino effect throughout society. Many jobs, businesses, and supplies are being affected by the crisis. Do diabetic patients have to worry about a shortage of insulin?

We’re here to give you a closer look at what’s going on.

Unlike most medications (which are not naturally occurring in the body), insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. It regulates your metabolism by triggering the absorption of glucose by the body. On July 27th 1921, scientists Frederick Banting and Charles Best were the first to successfully isolate insulin! Within one year, diabetic patients were receiving insulin treatments. The world had finally seen a solution to what was previously regarded as a fatal disease. 

Insulin Manufacturers

In order to understand the potential of an insulin shortage, it’s important to first know how insulin is manufactured. Since the 1920s, the world has seen an enormous rise in diabetes, and with that came the promise of success for insulin manufacturers. The following three manufacturers hold almost 90% of global insulin market share, and are estimated to reach approximately $45.14 billion in sales by the end of 2024:

  • Novo Nordisk A/S (Denmark)
  • Sanofi S.A. (France)
  • Eli Lilly and Company (U.S.)

All three manufacturers independently produce insulin in the USA, and don’t rely on foreign supply chains to be able to produce and distribute their insulin. In the last few months, all three manufacturers have released statements reassuring insulin users. Biological products such as insulin are set for stable, uninterrupted production and global supply chains for most diabetes medications are working as expected.

Understanding Medical Supply Chains 

You might have heard of some medicine shortages during the pandemic, and thought it was due to panic buying. But that’s not quite true. Medical shortages during the pandemic are not primarily caused by increased demand, but rather due to a problem with upstream suppliers. 

What does this mean?

We’ve mentioned that insulin is a biological product, but 90% of medications are not. Most medications qualify as small molecule generic drugs (these are drugs that are manufactured through chemical synthesis). These small molecule generic drugs have a component called active pharmaceutical ingredients (API), which is the ingredient in the drug that is biologically active. Some of these APIs are outsourced from China and other countries. Because trade security levels have been heightened in light of the pandemic, this has caused lags in the distribution process, which we might see as medication shortages.

Will we face a shortage of insulin?

Rest assured! Unlike small molecule generic drugs, insulin is manufactured in the USA without impact from foreign supply chain delays. So because insulin is manufactured in the USA with USA supplies, insulin stock is predicted to remain at a safe level throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additional Resources  

The federal government has signed the broad package Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Community Security Act, which aims to coordinate government and industry efforts to mitigate the issues leading to drug shortages.

The Lily Diabetes Solution Center provides additional support by offering insulin to individuals who cannot afford the drug during these critical times. Novo Nordisk has announced that it stockpiles two month’s worth of insulin supply across warehouses around the country, which significantly reduces the risks of product shortage. 

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