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Banting and Best for Canada?

Posted by Daniel Hoornweg on November 09, 2015

Frederick Banting (right) with Charles H. Best, ca. 1924
Frederick Banting (right) with Charles H. Best, ca. 1924

Quick: name the world’s largest diabetes company. It should be Canadian right? After all it was Frederick Banting and Charles Best at the University of Toronto (U of T) who developed insulin in 1921. But wait, Banting and Best, being good guys gave away the intellectual property (IP) and now, nearly a century later, Denmark's Novo Nordisk is the world’s largest pharmaceutical company working on diabetes.

Novo Nordisk got its start through Marie and August Krogh who, when visiting New York in the fall of 1922, heard about insulin being produced in Toronto. They wrote to Professor John Macleod, head of the new institute at U of T. The letter was well-received and after a meeting in Toronto, the couple returned to Copenhagen in December 1922 with permission to manufacture and sell insulin in Scandinavia.

Banting, Best, Macleod, as well as the Kroghs, were all medical doctors (Marie was the first woman to get a medical doctorate in Denmark – and had Type 2 diabetes). Their collective priorities were in helping as many diabetes patients as possible. Banting and Best did not want to control the patent for insulin, preferring it be as freely available as possible. They assigned the rights to the university, which charged a five per cent royalty to ensure quality control.

Teaching hospitals provide a similar nod to altruism, combining education with real-life patients. There are more than 2,000 hospitals partnered with universities around the world, about 100 in Canada alone. Most doctors spend their formative years passing through at least one of these teaching hospitals.

Canada may now be experiencing another ‘insulin moment.’ Canada’s ‘seven Cs’, the seven-largest cities (metro areas of Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg) cannot control the IP of city service delivery, but they can emerge as key global centres for urban management and healthy cities.

Despite the fact more than three times as much money is spent on urban services as health care, there is not a single official teaching community worldwide. A few of Canada’s cities should partner with universities and also serve as teaching communities. Maybe the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) and Oshawa, Whitby or Pickering (and Veridian or the Oshawa Public Utilities Commission) could be first. Similar to doctors in teaching hospitals today, in 10 to 15 years every key urban manager, engineer, planner and communicator working on energy, transportation, water and waste services, should have passed through at least one teaching community.

Canadian companies, along with their host communities, will flourish. Similar to how the discovery of insulin now helps people worldwide, better city management in Canada can also help everyone in the world. And in 50 years or so, a quick answer to the question “Where is the world’s largest and best urban management company from?” will be, “Canada of course.”

Banting, Best, Macleod, as well as the Kroghs were all medical doctors (Marie was the first woman to get a medical doctorate in Denmark – and had Type 2 diabetes). Their collective priorities were in helping as many diabetes patients as possible. Banting and Best did not want to control the patent for insulin, preferring it be as freely available as possible. They assigned the rights to the university, which charged a five per cent royalty to ensure quality control.


Filed under: Sustainability 101


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