The story of insulin: the world’s first life-saving diabetes drug
A century ago, researchers from the University of Toronto made a scientific breakthrough that transformed the treatment of diabetes forever: the discovery of insulin for the treatment of humans. What does the future hold?
A century ago, researchers from the University of Toronto made a scientific breakthrough that transformed the treatment of diabetes forever: the discovery of insulin for the treatment of humans. The impossible made possible as a previously untreatable condition was finally made treatable.
Since then, many innovations have followed, starting with the launch of the world’s first commercially available insulin product for the treatment of diabetes by Lilly in 1923, through to the countless other milestone advances outlined in our timeline.
What does the future hold? Today, improving the patient’s overall quality of life, and the way medicines are delivered, is increasingly important. That's why innovation strategies in diabetes are shifting beyond medicine to how the condition is managed and controlled. Lilly and others in the biopharmaceutical industry are developing more sophisticated treatments and digital tools, working with partners to provide integrated care and empower people with chronic diseases like diabetes to take control of their daily treatment.
The development of advanced treatments requires investment in advanced manufacturing facilities, like Lilly’s Fegersheim site in France. €434 million went towards further development of the site between 2010 and 2020, and today it produces biological drugs and innovative medicine delivery devices using artificial intelligence, virtual reality and automated robots alongside our highly skilled workforce, without whom none of this progress is possible.
Access to innovative treatments should also be a priority if we are to continue to improve the lives of people living with diabetes in Europe, where there are 60 million people managing their condition every day and night, seven days a week, 365 days a year. European health systems spend €150 billion on diabetes, up to 75% of which is related to preventable complications. All stakeholders need to work together to ensure patients have timely access to effective treatment through initiatives like the European Diabetes Forum (EUDF) which focuses on digital health, data registries and integration of care.
As we move into the next 100 years of innovation, Lilly’s purpose to make life better is as important as ever. We won’t rest in our commitment to help people with diabetes have longer and healthier lives. #WeWontRest
 European Diabetes Forum. A Call to Action, To All Stakeholders in the European Diabetes
Landscape. Available from: EUDF_CalltoAction.pdf (jimdo-storage.global.ssl.fastly.net)
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Battling diabetes: no sign of slow-down 100 years on from discovery of insulin
Leonard Thompson was a 14-year-old boy when, in 1922, he became the first person living with diabetes to ever be saved by insulin treatment. That was just one year after insulin was discovered, and a year before Lilly became the first company to make insulin available commercially.
Diabetes must be higher on the political agenda
60 million people in Europe—equivalent to the population of Italy—have diabetes. This presents a significant challenge for European health systems, which spend €150 billion on diabetes.1 And up to 75% of diabetes expenditure is related to preventable complications.2 Moreover, COVID-19 has further highlighted the need for better diabetes care and control as people with diabetes are suffering a far higher mortality rate than the general population. This should be a call to action for all policymakers.