A PLATFORM THAT ENABLES PEOPLE TO MAKE SAFE, EFFECTIVE INSULIN AT HOME.
>> DISTRIBUTED PHARMACEUTICALS
The Open Insulin Project is a physical kit, digital platform and supporting service that enables anyone to perform a small-scale biopharmaceutical production of human insulin outside the laboratory.
>> THE (PROBLEM) SPACE OF INSULIN
In 1923, the patent for insulin was sold by scientists for $1. Yet, nearly a century later, the “lack of access to affordable insulin remains a key impediment to successful treatment and results in needless complications and premature deaths” [WHO 2018 REPORT ON DIABETES].
In the USA, 99% of the insulin market is dominated by three pharmaceutical giants that employ evergreening1 to keep their insulin pricing protected under patent while not significantly improving the effect of the medicine they produce2. There are few affordable alternatives.
This lack of accessibility affects people. The cost is felt by people of all social economic levels and the most desperate often take risk-prone measures to handle the pricing. Some ignore their maintenance to cope, others ration their insulin supplies. These measures can have dire short and long term health consequences.
The bottom line is –
>> A SYSTEM OUTSIDE THE SYSTEM
Open Insulin is an alternative path to insulin for those who cannot afford big pharma insulin. The platform leverages the existing support network among people with diabetes to facilitate forums, insulin subsidizations and troubleshooting between new and experienced brewers.
The physical kit pre-packages and automates the most difficult parts of following the insulin protocol. A digital platform is used to educate and enable the user to brew insulin at home. Finally, the service ties each step together and brings an added layer of peer-to-peer support and peer-to-facility verification that fosters a safe, robust network of local insulin producers.
>> THE DIGITAL PLATFORM
The pH, diO2 and temperature sensors inform the app of the status of the insulin culture. Through the app, the user is taken through step-by-step instruction on how to use the physical kit to make their own insulin at home. Any user action on the physical kit is performed through the digital platform, if any thing goes wrong the digital app will close off access to the physical kit, walk the user through how to request insulin subsidizations and how to safely dispose of their brew.
>> THE SERVICE LAYER
>> THE PHYSICAL COMPONENTS (PROPS)
One of the biggest challenges of the physical kit is ensuring sterility in an at-home environment with users who are not trained in sterile technique3. To circumvent the limitations of at home production, the physical kit is designed to be a closed loop system. The insulin culture will never need to be exposed directly to the environment. To design the components, I conducted a laboratory visit and a technical interview with a pharmaceutical industry expert to understand the specific requirements of a small scale manufacturing kit. At scale mocks were made for the exhibition to demonstrate the size and feel of the full kit at home.
Onsite Visit & Laboratory Visit
UI User Testing
Physical Component Design
Speculative Physical Component Production
>> OUTCOMES & FUTURE STEPS
The Open Insulin Project artifacts (physical, digital and service) were presented at the 2018 CIID Final Exhibition
* The Open Insulin Project is currently ongoing. These artifacts constitutes my design thesis at CIID as well as my contribution to the interdisciplinary work of the Open Insulin Project Team in Oakland, CA as of December 2018. You can find continual updates on the state of the project here or at Open Insulin Project Website
1. “Incremental innovation has repeatedly precluded the formation of a generic insulin industry in North American when earlier patents expired… Pharmaceutical-industry analysts have described a repatenting tactic called evergreening, in which a series of related patents – often on metabolites or optical isomers – extend the life of the product after the initial patent expiration.” – Jeremy A. Greene, M.D., Ph.D. (Why Is There No Generic Insulin? Historical Origins of a Modern Problem, 2015)
2. “While the major cost drivers are hospital and outpatient care, a contributing factor is the rise in cost for analogue insulins which are increasingly prescribed despite little evidence that they provide significant advantages over cheaper insulins” – World Health Organization (Global Report on Diabetes, 2016)
3. “Sterile technique is a set of specific practices and procedures performed to make equipment and areas free from all microorganisms and to maintain that sterility” – BC Centre for Disease Control (Clinical Procedures for Safer Patient Care, 2010).