Tech Tuesday: How do EpiPens work?


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Photo by WIKIMEDIA COMMONS |

EpiPens, which are used to inject epinephrine during allergic reactions, made news this summer when Mylan, their producer, raised the price of the devices from $50 to nearly $600. Mylan is the only major producer of the device due to patents.


EpiPens have been at the forefront of headlines recently, with outrage over the price of the medical product being raised by over 400 percent over the last nine years.

EpiPens are injectors for epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, to help the users deal with anaphylaxis, or a life-threatening allergic reaction, according to the EpiPen website.

The price of the pens has risen from about $50 to almost $600. This price makes it very difficult to afford for people who need it. Mylan, the producer of the EpiPen, makes over $1 billion in yearly revenue on the drug, according to Ars Technica.

As a result of these price hikes, people have been searching for alternative methods to obtain their epinephrine, such as generic options that offer similar results, according to the website for Consumer Reports.

EpiPens came after an initiative started by the Pentagon in 1973 to give a primary line of defense to soldiers exposed to nerve gas. The antidote was meant to be used with minimal training and self-use, according to Timeline.

The injector also has to be non-reactive with the medicine inside, preserving the contents for treatment as needed, according to the site.

Epinephrine was first isolated in 1901 by Jokichi Takamine, and soon mass produced for research in medical settings.

Through years of research, it was found to be useful for heart and lung issues and is even found on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines, according to Business Insider.

Sheldon Kaplan, one of the inventors of the original nerve gas antidote auto-injector, predicted the potential to repurpose the injector for use with epinephrine. The first EpiPen was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1987.

The EpiPen patent has changed hands many times since its creation and most recently belongs to Mylan. The drug made $200 million annually before Mylan purchased it, and now makes over $1 billion each year.

Epinephrine has been readily available and researched for over a century, and as such is inexpensive. While the medication itself is cheap, the injector is very costly and is the reason for the drug’s high price.

Mylan holds a patent over the EpiPen design. It is stable, can withstand a variety of environments and can last up to 18 months. A generic competitor, Adrenaclick, also offers these features but for half the price, according to the site.

The patent is valid until 2025, forcing potential competitors to sue Mylan before attempting to make a generic EpiPen. Even after that, they must overcome the difficult task of recreating the injector, according to Kaiser Health News.

Although the patent is publicly available, it is very difficult to copy perfectly, especially when producing syringes like those in the EpiPen, according to the site.

This process was completed by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Inc., but was ultimately unsuccessful in getting it approved by the FDA, according to the site.

In 2013, President Barack Obama signed a law to encourage schools to prepare for allergic reactions, which includes a requirement to maintain an emergency supply of epinephrine, according to the White House website.

As a result of this law, Mylan will see profits soar, and is not expected to see any new competitors in the near future.


Harshel Patel is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in molecular biology and biochemistry. He is the digital editor of The Daily Targum. He can be found on Twitter @harshel_p.


Harshel Patel

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