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100 Years of Insulin

2021 marks the 100th anniversary of insulin’s discovery – the first life-saving treatment for diabetes. Before the discovery of insulin, the lives of people with diabetes were cut short. In 1921, researchers from the University of Toronto had a scientific breakthrough that transformed the treatment of diabetes forever – the discovery of insulin for the treatment of humans.

Join Us in Celebrating 100 Years of Insulin

The 100th anniversary of this incredible discovery starts in 2021 and Lilly, the first company to commercialize insulin in 1923, is celebrating this milestone by recognizing the work of researchers, advocates and people living with diabetes.

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Nurses at the University of Toronto, 1920s

Meet Leonard Thompson

To commemorate this milestone, we are reminded and inspired by the life of Leonard Thompson, the first person with diabetes to be treated with insulin in 1922 when he was just 14 years old. 

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Leonard Thompson, the first person treated with insulin

Since then, developments in insulin have come a long way. We are proud to recognize the progress made in insulin development over the last century – and the advancements yet to come – while also honoring the bravery of Leonard and millions of others whose lives were forever changed by insulin.   

 Named for Leonard, our insulin centennial celebration is not just about celebrating past achievements — it’s about recognizing strides made in the development of insulin and other diabetes treatments, and using it as inspiration to persevere. We look forward to celebrating many stories of courage. 

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James Collip, who purified insulin for diabetes treatment (Courtesy of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto) 


The Leonard Prize – Celebrating 100 Years of Innovation in Diabetes Care

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About the Prize 


2021 marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of insulin, and Lilly is celebrating the centennial milestone by recognizing diverse champions dedicated to advancing diabetes management. The Leonard Prize, inspired by Leonard Thompson, the first person with diabetes to be treated with insulin, will be awarded in five $20,000 grants to a non-profit organization in recognition of original projects or innovations that address the management of diabetes or aim to support the diabetes community. 

Who is Eligible?  


One winner will be chosen from each of five entry categories. A $20,000 grant will be donated to a non-profit organization that supports people with diabetes. The entry categories include:

  • Researcher: Research professional dedicated to research in the field of diabetes care (therapeutics, technology or otherwise) 

  • Diabetes educator/nurse: Diabetes educator and/or nurse specializing in the care of people with diabetes 

  • Endocrinologist/primary care physician: Healthcare professional specializing in endocrinology or who acts as a primary care physician to people with diabetes 

  • Advocate/advocacy professional: Active advocate for people with diabetes, either through personal channels or with an established organization 

  • Teen/young adult: 18- to 25-year-old living with diabetes or with a strong personal connection to someone impacted by diabetes

How to Nominate Someone


From mid-2021 through September 2021, you can nominate someone you know who is making a difference in the diabetes community by visiting this page and completing the online submission form.


Our Commitment to Insulin Advancement and Access

Addressing the impact of diabetes has been at the heart of our purpose for a century and advancing insulin therapy is a hallmark of our business.  

 Two years after Frederick Banting and Charles Best discovered insulin for the treatment of humans, Lilly manufactured and brought the first commercial insulin, Iletin, to market. 

 The widespread manufacturing of insulin came with challenges, but Lilly continued to persevere in our commitment to provide solutions for people with diabetes. 

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Frederick Banting and Charles Best, who together discovered insulin (Courtesy of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto) 

The prevalence of diabetes has grown in the last decade and so has our commitment to deliver breakthrough outcomes through innovative solutions – from medicines and technologies, to support programs and more. 

Today, people with diabetes can access more than 150 Lilly patient support programs across 51 countries — reaching close to two million people each year. We remain dedicated to ensuring access to treatment for everyone in the global diabetes community.  

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The Future of Insulin


We still need better solutions for the millions of people living with diabetes, and we are committed to finding them. 

Great strides have been made in the fight against diabetes through improvements to life-saving insulins by many people and institutes in the healthcare space. This is good for people living with diabetes, but taking insulin remains a frustrating process with complex variables that may limit medicines from reaching their full potential.  

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Most people with diabetes are not achieving their treatment goals, despite new medicines and advances in diabetes management technology. In fact, only 17% of youth and 21% of adults living with diabetes are meeting target A1C levels, and outcomes are worsening for young adults over time. 

Looking to the future, we continue to research ways to improve current treatments – such as connected care solutions that will increase efficiencies in treatment delivery and alleviate the burden associated with disease management.   

By 2030, we are working to deliver breakthrough outcomes and transform care for tens of millions more people living with diabetes, including those with related metabolic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and kidney disease. 

100 Years of Insulin Timeline


Explore the history of diabetes research and celebrate the past century of insulin innovation with our
timeline.

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