As people living with diabetes, we’ve pretty much resigned ourselves to the constant pricks of insulin injections. Fortunately, Novo Nordisk is planning to spend over 20 billion crowns, the equivalent of $2.27 Billion GBP, over the next half decade for a new solution. The Danish company is planning on investing the money on a consumable pill form of insulin, to be ready for use by sometime around 2020.
Insulin in pill form has long been a dream of the diabetes community. Of course, at Timesulin we know that an insulin pill will take away some of the need for our product, but we’re excited about where things are going and the improvements to the way we all manage our T1D.
Novo Nordisk’s research into an insulin pill is just one example of the companies who are making advancements in this area. Of course Novo, being the largest producer of insulin in the world, is making a major splash by entering the race. The huge amount of money they are devoting to the pursuit is also big news in the diabetes research community. And while Novo might be the largest of the companies now racing to get insulin in pill form, it’s not the only one who’s making strides. A small Israeli biotech company, Oramed, has been working towards the diabetes pill goal since 2012, as well as Emisphere Technologies of New York, which is actually conducting trials on an oral form of insulin.
For many years, a “diabetes pill”, or an oral form of insulin, was thought to be impossible. Insulin is a very complex molecule that is normally deposited in the liver before being released to control blood glucose levels. Unfortunately, the way from the mouth to the liver requires a pass first through the stomach, then into the small intestine, and finally into the portal vein. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that the stomach is quite good at what it does – breaking down complex molecules into simpler ones. This has long been the problem with an oral insulin – turning insulin into a pill form is simple, but getting it into a state where it can survive the digestion process is incredibly complex.
Now Novo Nordisk, Oramed, and Emisphere think they have the answer. While the specifics differ from company to company, the idea is to create a specialized coating for the insulin molecules that would shield them just long enough to make it through the stomach and get absorbed into the portal vein to begin their journey to the liver. The idea seems to be working, and there are several clinical trials ongoing or being considered to test the viability of insulin in a pill form.
An oral version of insulin could be a great help for people living with diabetes. We’ve all had to deal for far too long with the daily needle pricks of insulin injections, and the constant search for new injection sites that don’t get overtaken by scar tissue or fatty deposits that make insulin injections risky. Even better, having the insulin in pill form makes things that people without diabetes take for granted – going on a trip, flying, going to school or work, etc. – much easier. No more having to explain a bag full of needles to airport security personnel who aren’t familiar with diabetes, or having long talks with the school nurse about where and when your children can have injections. Turning insulin into just another oral medication removes much of the stigma that we in the diabetes community have lived with for a long time. Finally, there are the health benefits. Taking insulin orally is much closer to the natural pathway that insulin uses to control blood glucose levels, and has the potential to make it much easier to keep glucose levels steady. It could also let your liver regulate how much of the insulin to release, making the risk of hypoglycemia much lower than with insulin injections directly into the bloodstream.
Here at Timesulin, we’ve been awaiting this anxiously for a while now. Again, we know that this will take away a large need for our product, but as people with diabetes ourselves, we know all too well the benefits that an oral insulin pill can bring to the community. Current estimates put the pill appearing in consumers’ hands by the end of the decade, and we can’t wait!