Nonprofit drug company makes insulin cheaper for a Collier County teen

Reporter: Lindsey Sablan Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

A drug-making company uninterested in profit doesn’t seem possible, but that is the concept behind a new organization geared at making your health care more affordable, starting with insulin. One Collier County family shows the impact of making the drug easier to purchase.

Between theater and taekwondo, 15-year-old Sabine Rivera keeps busy likes most teens. Unlike most teens, she has to carry around a bag of Skittles wherever she goes.

“They see me pull out Skittles and they’re like, ‘Oh, can I have some?’ And I’m like, ‘Sorry, no, this is medical-related,'” Sabine said.

Sabine has Type 1 diabetes. She keeps the Skittles on hand because they could save her life if her blood sugar level drops.

“Every day when I wake up, I have to check my blood sugar before I eat my breakfast,” Sabine said. “And then, based on that number, I give myself insulin, and then whatever I eat for breakfast, I count the carbohydrates in that and give myself insulin based on how many carbs I’m eating.”

That routine for every meal and snack is a lot, and so is the price of staying alive.

“It was really eye-opening that one month of supplies to keep my daughter alive was $1,500,” said Pamela Rivera, Sabine’s mother.

Pamela works hard as a Collier County teacher, but it’s not easy to keep up with the cost of insulin, even with insurance. Each year, she pays full price until she hits her deductible. Sabine’s medicine alone costs around $200 per month, never mind the cost of syringes, alcohol wipes and devices.

“The cost of insulin in the U.S. market is eight to 10 times more than any other country,” said Ned McCoy, CEO of the nonprofit pharmaceutical company Civica. “One out of six folks in the U.S. taking insulin are reporting that they are rationing their insulin because they can’t afford it.”

The company’s building a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in Virginia where it will produce generic medications no longer under patent, including insulin. Once Civica completes all the federally required testing, it plans to offer insulin for $30 per vial, or $55 for a five-pack of pens.

For perspective: Pamela Rivera pays $86.25 for five pens after insurance, and that’s just one of the insulins Sabine uses daily.

Civica’s stated goal is to work for the patient. A noble idea, but how does the company pay the bills?

“We’re doing the insulin project entirely with donated funds,” McCoy said. “JDRF, that you’re aware of, is one of the donors.”

That’s where this story comes full circle: Sabine is active with the local Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the group helping fund Civica’s mission, near North Naples. The group’s office is her second home.

In 2019, Sabine spoke in front of Congress, asking lawmakers to make insulin more affordable. While Sabine continues to grow, and her insulin price doesn’t change, she and her mom are not giving up.

“This is her fight—this is our fight,” Pamela said. “There are so many people living with Type 1, and they can’t afford it.”

JDRF has ways to get help paying for medicine through nonprofits, or you can get a coupon on this website.

Eli Lilly cut non-branded insulin, lispro, to $25 per vial. If you don’t have insurance– you can go to this website and download a savings card to get Lilly insulins for no more than $35 per month.

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