best example for the drug industry fooling everyone is probably the development
and marketing of the so called Human Insulin. The saga of Human Insulin is full
of inadequate research, lots of cover up and twisted logic.
The facts are revealing:
Human Insulins are NOT Human Insulins. These are SYNTHETIC proteins that have
a molecular structure akin to Human Insulin. These molecules are produced within
the cells of microbes by recombinant DNA techniques.
These molecules were introduced into the market in the early 1980s with a
claim that 'Human Insulins' are more efficacious and less (or not) allergenic
than animal insulins. It was also claimed that Human Insulins would offer dose
benefits (being more efficacious) and would therefore offset the higher costs.
It was also claimed that with increased market share, the price of Human
Insulins would ultimately come down. More than 25 years after the use of Human
Insulins, none of these claims have been proven; in fact, all the evidence point
to the contrary.
The initial study that was presented for obtaining the approval from US FDA
involved only 17 non-diabetic men.(1) When reports of more frequent hypoglycemia
(and unawareness to it resulting even in even deaths) started surfacing, a study
from Liverpool University, involving just 7 patients, gave a clean chit to Human
Insulin!(2) It is interesting to note that both these papers (1,2) were
published in a journal as prestigious as The Lancet. Many such papers on the
'virtues' of Human Insulin have been published, obviously 'supported' by the Big
Pharma. The Cochrane Review of 45 randomised controlled studies involving a
total of 2156 participants reported thus: A comparison of the effects of human
and animal insulin as well as of the adverse reaction profile did not show
clinically relevant differences. Many patient-oriented outcomes like
health-related quality of life or diabetes complications and mortality were
never investigated in high-quality randomised clinical trials. The story of the
introduction of human insulin might be repeated by contemporary launching
campaigns to introduce pharmaceutical and technological innovations that are not
backed up by sufficient proof of their advantages and safety. (3) So much for
the reliability of Human Insulins! And a scary precedent indeed!
have been reported to be as allergenic as animal insulins with antibodies
reported in in as high as 55% of users. In addition, certain adverse effects
unreported with animal insulins have been reported with human insulin. In the
US, 2% of all ADRs have been from Human insulin users! Hypoglycemia is more
common and its unawareness has resulted in many cases of ‘Dead in bed syndrome’.
Problems like altered behaviour, unstable diabetes control, joint pains and many
others have been reported among human insulin users. (More info at 4,5,6,7,8)
And now, certain genetically modified proteins, called as Insulin Analogues',
have been unleashed on the Human Market. These molecules have one or two amino
acids in the insulin chain modified for the ostensible reason of altering the
duration of action of insulin. The irony cannot be missed at all. When 'Human
Insulins' were introduced, a big hue and cry were raised about the one and two
amino acids that are different in porcine and bovine insulin respectively
compared to human insulin. It was claimed that these differences are responsible
for the allergenicity of animal insulins. Now, so called insulin analogues with
experimental changes to insulin structure are being marketed! These molecules
CANNOT be called as insulins at all for the simple reason that they do not have
the structure of insulin. Nature does not work by splicing one or two amino
acids here and there, it is more perfect. Take, for example, the case of
hemoglobin. If glutamic acid is replaced with valine at the sixth position of
the β chain of hemoglobin, it becomes Hemoglobin S that sickles under reduced
oxygen levels and causes severe complications for the patient. What to say of
proteins genetically modified from the insulin chain?
|Insulin lispro (Humalog)®
||Reversal of the proline at B-28 and the lysine at B-29
|Insulin aspart (Novolog)®
||Substitution of proline by aspartic acid at B28
|Insulin glulisine (Apidra)™
||Asparagine at B3 is replaced by lysine and lysine at B29 is replaced by
||Asparagine at A21 is replaced by glycine and two arginines are added to
the C-terminus of the B-chain
|Insulin detemir (Levemir)®
||Acylation of a 14 carbon chain fatty acid (myristic acid) to the lysine
residue at B29
The story of introduction of these
insulin analogues is the same, or even worse, than that of 'human insulin'.
Lantus was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2000. Before the
European Medicines Evaluation Agency (EMEA) was asked to approve Lantus in
Europe, “it was found to be highly mitogenic [causing cell proliferation] on in
vitro testing with human osteosarcoma cells [cancerous cells from tissue
surrounding bone].” It is said that Aventis, makers of Lantus, presented this
information to the EMEA orally, and the EMEA decided it was “irrelevant.” Lantus
was then approved.(9) Studies have reported that insulin analogues have been
found to stimulate plasminogen activator inhibitor in vivo, increase the
incidence of cardiovascular events and that certain analogs have IGF-1 effects
in vitro and carcinogenic concerns in mice studies.(9,10) And for all these,
these 'analogues' have not ben found to be any better than the already available
insulins in the market.(11,12)
So, the writing on the wall is
- There is NO dose benefit
with 'human insulin', and the cost is double that of animal insulin
- The claims of lesser side
effects (particularly allergic reactions and antibodies) with 'human insulin'
- Natural animal insulin
should be FIRST choice – cheaper, safer, effective
- Switch to ‘Human’ NOT
- Switch back to animal
insulin in case of problems with human insulin
- ‘Insulin analogues' are NOT
insulins and long term safety not proven.
Keen H et al.
Human insulin produced by recombinant DNA technology: safety and hypoglycaemic
potency in healthy men. Lancet. 1980;2(8191):398-401
Patrick AW et
al. Human insulin and awareness of acute hypoglycaemic symptoms in
insulin-dependent diabetes. Dept. of Medicine, University of Liverpool, UK.
Lancet. 1991 Oct 12;338(8772):950-1.
Neises G. 'Human' insulin versus animal insulin in people with diabetes
mellitus. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2005, Issue 1.
- The GM 'Human' versus
natural animal insulin debate. Available At
- Paul Brown. Diabetics not
told of Insulin Risk. Guardian UK 9 Mar 99 Available At
- Frank Lesser. 'Human'
insulin loses its clean appeal. New Scientist. 15 April 1989. Available
- Prasanna Kumar KM, Bhat GK.
Animal Insulins - Current Status. Int J Diab Dev Ctries [serial online] 2003
[cited 2008 Apr 22];23:6-9. Available from:
- Daniel Trecroci. Can Insulin
Cause Cancer? Available at
- Horvath K, Jeitler K,
Berghold A, Ebrahim SH, Gratzer TW, Plank J, Kaiser T, Pieber TR, Siebenhofer
A. Long-acting insulin analogues versus NPH insulin (human isophane insulin)
for type 2 diabetes mellitus. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
2007, Issue 2. Available at
- Siebenhofer A, Plank J,
Berghold A, Jeitler K, Horvath K, Narath M, Gfrerer R, Pieber TR. Short acting
insulin analogues versus regular human insulin in patients with diabetes
mellitus. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2004, Issue 2.