By Neil Brown & Matthew Kates
January 2022 marks the 100-year anniversary of a truly ground breaking medical innovation. On January 11th
1922 a gravely ill 14-year-old boy named Leonard Thompson became the first person to receive an experimental medication: an injection of insulin.1
Leonard had Type 1 diabetes, a disease that we routinely treat today but that had been largely untreatable throughout our history. Leonard’s extremely high blood sugar levels began to fall within 24 hours of his first injection but he suffered complications and more innovation was required. The team responsible continued to purify their insulin extract and Leonard was given a second injection on the 23rd of January, 1922.
The second injection was a complete success and Leonard's blood sugar returned to near-normal levels with no noticeable negative effects. A great solution had been found to one of our great challenges, and for the first time in history, Type 1 diabetes was no longer a death sentence.
It’s difficult to stress the severity of diabetes pre-insulin, a known disease since the 16th century BCE with no known cure. Sir Frederick G Banting, Charles H Best, and JJR Macleod catalysed one of the twentieth century’s most significant medical discoveries when they discovered insulin in 1921 at the University of Toronto. Biochemist James B Collip played a critical role in isolating and subsequently purifying it. Still regarded as one of history's most significant medical breakthroughs it remains the primary treatment for people with Type 1 diabetes today.2
Nearly half a billion people live with diabetes globally, the majority in low and middle income countries, and it is still responsible for the deaths of 1.5million people per year (WHO). This remains one of our leading healthcare challenges and it requires solutions across a number of fronts. We need innovative solutions in nutrition and exercise to combat obesity, a significant risk factor in diabetes, alongside innovations in accessible insulin and medical devices for those who progress to Type 2. Insulin remains inaccessible for one in every two people who need it to treat Type 23 so we must keep a particular focus on innovation into affordable insulin.
We believe in investing in solutions, in the companies that can positively impact our world. We hold Novo Nordisk, the global leader in the manufacture and supply of insulin distributing in 160 countries as we believe their combination of innovation and operational excellence deliver positive impact in this critical area.4 We also invest in Planet Fitness and Kerry Group, companies having a positive impact on our fitness and healthy eating challenges.
The 100-year history of insulin is one of unwavering commitment to innovation aimed at finding a solution to diabetes; we look for companies across our economies that can seize the opportunities in solving our greatest challenges.