In six to nine months time, Danish medico giant Novo Nordisk will be ready to start human tests of the first insulin tablet, with a view to getting the first oral insulin treatment for diabetes on the market in the next seven or eight years, writes Berlingske Business.
Hitherto, an oral insulin tablet for diabetes has been considered a virtually impossible objective. But within the last two years, Novo Nordisk has made two scientific breakthroughs that have brought the company closer to achieving the "Holy Grail" of diabetes treatment.
The first is that the company's protein experts have succeeded in creating a more stable variant of the insulin molecule GLP-1 (Glucagon Like Peptide 1) which forms the basis of its new type II diabetes drug liraglutide. The second is that in collaboration with the Irish firm Merrion and US company Emisphere, Novo Nordisk has found a way to get large, stable molecules absorbed into the bloodstream of test animals while at the same time protecting the molecules from the acid environment of the stomach.
Novo Nordisk's research director Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen comments to Berlingske Business: "In the last 24 months we have obtained such strong proof that our hypothesis holds in animal studies, that we have decided to put major efforts into developing a tablet-based diabetes treatment. We have established a complete research unit that will have the exclusive aim of getting therapeutic proteins into tablet form."
Novo Nordisk is currently running a recruitment campaign to attract specialists in the oral formulation of drugs to its new centre, the Oral Protein Formulation Unit, which is presently being established in Målev on the outskirts of Copenhagen.
Meanwhile, other companies around the world are also engaged in the race to develop a tablet-based insulin or GLP-1 treatment. Furthest ahead at this time is reportedly India's Biocon, with US firm Biodel, Israel's Oramed and Britain's Diabetology also beginning tests.
How far Novo Nordisk's major competitors Eli Lilly and Sanofi-Aventis have advanced with tablet-based insulin or GLP-1 is not currently known, writes Berlingske Business. Lilly and Emisphere were involved in a court action over a patent for tablet-based GLP-1 which Emisphere won in 2006, the year before it began collaborating with Novo Nordisk.