Rewriting Life

It Costs $30 to Make a DIY EpiPen, and Here’s the Proof

The medical maker collective Four Thieves Vinegar made an “EpiPencil” for a tiny fraction of what the EpiPen manufacturer Mylan charges.

The recent furor over the drug company Mylan jacking up the price of lifesaving EpiPens has brought out the biohackers. A team of DIY enthusiasts calling themselves Four Thieves Vinegar have published plans that will allow anyone to build a device to self-inject epinephrine on the cheap.

EpiPens are meant as a last-ditch measure to ward off anaphylaxis—a potentially fatal allergic reaction that can result from exposure to anything from peanuts to insect stings. The drug itself is over 100 years old, but the device makes it easy for anyone to inject, which is an attractive proposition when flirting with death.

The pharmaceutical company Mylan, which is the only manufacturer of the device, was recently shown to have raised the prices of a single device from $57 to $318—that’s a 461 percent increase—since acquiring rights to it in 2007. The backstory is a bizarre tale that involves corporate greed, Congress, and Sarah Jessica Parker. Sadly, the cost prevents some people from having access to an incredibly reliable way to treat anaphylaxis.

It may not look like much, but Four Thieves Vinegar claims that the $30 home-brew EpiPencil works just as well as the official $300 EpiPen.

There are several reasons why nobody else has built an alternative to the EpiPen, among them patent protection, fear of creating a device that doesn’t work reliably, and a regulatory process that makes getting products to market incredibly difficult.

Mylan did bow (a little) to public pressure, announcing a new generic EpiPen that costs $150 for a single device. But industry insiders have suggested that the components of an EpiPen cost only around $30.

And Four Thieves Vinegar, a collective that was founded to create tools for DIY medicine, has now shown that to be accurate.

The group has published a video and instructions online in which it demonstrates how to build a home-brew version of the device. They call it the EpiPencil. The team claims that it can “be built entirely using off-the-shelf parts, for just over $30.” It pairs an existing auto-injector for diabetes sufferers with regular hypodermic needles. There is, of course, the small matter of sourcing the drug that puts the “epi” in the EpiPencil—but that can be obtained under prescription or online from a chemical supplier.

It’s worth noting that while it may be possible to make such a device at home, it’s completely unregulated. Using one to treat a person for anaphylaxis would not necessarily be a good idea. But as proof that Mylan’s pricing is inflated, there’s no denying its validity.

(Read more: Stat, The Guardian, NBC)

Want to go ad free? No ad blockers needed.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
It may not look like much, but Four Thieves Vinegar claims that the $30 home-brew EpiPencil works just as well as the official $300 EpiPen.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Listen in as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus ad-free web experience, select discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning magazine and daily delivery of The Download, our newsletter of what’s important in technology and innovation.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.