Joslin Moments: Banting & Best’s Discovery of Insulin

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After Banting & Best’s discovery in 1921 that islet cells extracted from dogs lowered blood sugar, hopes for an adequate supply of a more purified insulin for use in humans soon began to fade. By the spring of 1922, the University of Toronto group who held the insulin patent, had failed to produce enough purified insulin to meet the urgent demand and reluctantly turned to the fledgling Eli Lilly and Company in Indiana for help. This pharmaceutical firm was founded in 1876 by Eli Lilly [1838-1898], a pioneer pharmacist.

The founder’s son and grandson had explored the biochemical manufacturing of medications on a mass production scale. They had also had appointed a respected research director, George Clowes [1877- 1958], who was known to the Toronto group. His leadership was vital. Clowes appointed a research chemist named George Walden, whose efforts resulted in a rapid production of larger quantities of purified insulin by late 1922.

Clowes also designated a clinical research team to test the new insulin; Elliott P. Joslin was the senior member of this six-member group known as the Insulin Committee. Joslin was the first to receive a supply of the high-grade Lilly commercial insulin for clinical trials. Dr. Joslin then immediately began to set the guidelines for its proper use for the medical community at large.

In 1923, a year after insulin was available in commercial quantities, Josiah K. Lilly Sr., son of Eli Lilly and at the time current president of Eli Lilly and Company, wrote Dr. Joslin a letter addressing Dr. Joslin’s prominence within the diabetes community. An excerpt from the letter dated November 23, 1923 reads:

Surely you have been more than generous through all this interesting Insulin development to Dr. Clowes and his associates here. It will always be our hope that we may so conduct affairs in the future as to meet with your continued approval.

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One Response to Joslin Moments: Banting & Best’s Discovery of Insulin

  1. Martha Wahlberg says:

    If insulin was on the market in 1923 why is it still so expensive?

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