Significant step taken towards insulin pill

By Ben Hargreaves

- Last updated on GMT

Researchers from Harvard University have developed an insulin formulation using two ionic liquids they say could lead to the development of a pill for diabetics.

The advantage of delivering insulin medication in a pill form are numerous, not least because there are individuals who find it difficult to self-inject current formulations.

As a result, companies competing in the diabetes market are looking to formulate their own oral delivery methods, such as Eli Lilly's recent licensing​ deal with Sigilon Therapeutics to develop encapsulated cell therapies for type 1 diabetes.

Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) research focuses on finding a solution to the issue; the availability of a pill delivery could improve adherence to medication thereby lowering incidence of medical emergencies when patients have difficulty managing blood sugar levels.

Managing to deliver insulin orally, however, is a challenge – as stomach acid breaks down the protein and is not readily absorbed in the intestines. In order to navigate these issues, the insulin is carried in an ionic liquid and then put into an acid-resistant enteric coating.

A spokesperson for SEAS explained the manufacturing process for the pill and how scaling up could be a simple process: “The ionic liquid is prepared by a simple reaction of two principal ingredients, choline and geranic acid. The process can be easily scaled up. In fact, other ionic liquids are already in use in industrial applications various fields. The process of making insulin formulation in the ionic liquid is also simple. All in all, we don't anticipate major hurdles in making ionic-liquid-filled insulin capsules at a large scale.”

Though the research is promising, the development is still at an early stage. Detailing future plans, the spokesperson said: “The next step is to perform a longer-term safety evaluation and assess efficacy in a larger animal. These studies will form the foundation to advance to human studies.”

One of the necessities to fully evaluate the potential of the research is to secure the funding necessary. The SEAS’ spokesperson mentioned those involved are developing plans to establish industry collaborations to advance the technology further.

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