By Wil Dubois Email this
The problem with proteins is that they digest quite nicely. That’s not a problem when the protein is a T-Bone steak, but what if the protein is a medicine? How then, can we just take our medicine?
The solution for the last 95 years or so has been to bypass the digestive system altogether, a solution less than popular with patients because it involves…uh…needles.
Yes, I’m talking about insulin, arguably the best diabetes medication of all time. Insulin is natural, infinitely scalable, gets along well with other medications, and has few side effects. Really, the only thing wrong with insulin is that it freaks people out.
Hell, I’ll be the first to admit that sticking yourself with a needle is a highly unnatural act; although, frankly, fingersticks hurt more. Modern insulin needles are ridiculously short, laughably small in diameter, and coated with slippery stuff that puts the best late-night TV omelet pans to shame. Our friend technology has made injecting insulin virtually painless.
So what’s the problem?
Well, the problem is that no one knows it’s painless until they take that first shot, and docs have a heck of a time getting people to that point. Thus the quest for insulin sans needles. Inhaled insulin has been tried, and failed miserably. Like the Phoenix, it might rise again, but that’s a topic for another day. As is a nasal snort insulin, the insulin patch, and Biodel’s dissolve-under-your-tongue insulin.
But today we’re focusing on the diabetes medication you want in your stock portfolio: THE INSULIN PILL. Why a pill? People like pills. Diabetes Pharma companies know this, and they’re spending billions to get us one. Insulin giant Novo Nordisk alone has pumped two billion dollars into their search for THE PILL. So far Novo has had good luck with animal tests on rats, dogs and pigs. But they’ve also run up a number of blind alleys.
Meanwhile, at least half a dozen other smaller players are at various stages of development. Israel’s Ormed has had good luck treating diabetic pigs with their pill and has carried out a few small human trials.
But the challenges are daunting. If you drink insulin, it doesn’t get absorbed by your bloodstream. It gets digested. Like the T-bone steak. The trick to making an insulin pill work will be to get the digestive system to not digest. Talk about trying to fool mother nature. So far, the most promising approaches seem to be technologies like those devised by Merrion: they armor-plate a pill to get it through the stomach, then use an absorption enhancer to try to move the med quickly out of the hostile environment of the intestines and into the bloodstream.
The problems to be solved remain huge, and no one has truly succeeded yet. But given the potential payoff for success, the quest for THE PILL will not be abandoned.
That’s technology, and commence, in action.