University of British Columbia are developing a pill to replace insulin shots. They are hoping to lower the price of insulin per dosage since their oral substitute may be less expensive and simpler to produce.
A group of researchers from the University of British Columbia who are engaged in manufacturing oral insulin tablets to substitute daily insulin injections have made a revolutionary breakthrough.
Insulin from the most recent version of their oral tablets is absorbed by rats in the same way as injected insulin is, reports UBC News.
“These exciting results show that we are on the right track in developing an insulin formulation that will no longer need to be injected before every meal, improving the quality of life, as well as mental health, of more than nine million Type 1 diabetics around the world.” says professor Dr. Anubhav Pratap-Singh, the principal investigator from the faculty of land and food systems.
He reveals that his diabetic father, who had been injecting insulin 3-4 times a day for the past 15 years, inspired him to look for a non-injectable insulin.
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The senior fellow in Dr. Pratap-Singh’s lab, Dr. Alberto Baldelli, claims that they are currently observing nearly 100% of the insulin from their tablets move directly into the liver. In earlier attempts to create an insulin that could be drunk, the majority of the insulin would build up in the stomach.
“Even after two hours of delivery, we did not find any insulin in the stomachs of the rats we tested. It was all in the liver and this is the ideal target for insulin—it’s really what we wanted to see,” says Yigong Guo, first author of the study and a PhD candidate working closely on the project.
Changing the mode of delivery
Injections are not the most comfortable or convenient method of insulin delivery for diabetic patients. However, with multiple different oral insulin options being investigated and developed, the UBC team tried to determine where and how to improve absorption.
Dr. Pratap-Singh’s team created a pill that dissolves when inserted between the gums and cheeks rather than being swallowed.
This approach employs the buccal mucosa, a tiny membrane situated within the lining of the inner cheek and rear of the lips. It delivered all of the insulin to the liver without wasting or degrading any of it.
“For injected insulin we usually need 100iu per shot. Other swallowed tablets being developed that go to the stomach might need 500iu of insulin, which is mostly wasted, and that’s a major problem we have been trying to work around,” Yigong says.
Fast-release injectable insulin can be fully released in 30-120 minutes, but the majority of oral insulin tablets in development tend to distribute insulin slowly over two to four hours.
“Similar to the rapid-acting insulin injection, our oral delivery tablet absorbs after half an hour and can last for about two to four hours long,” says Dr. Baldelli.
Potential broad benefits
Human trials for the research have not yet begun, and according to Dr. Pratap-Singh, they will need additional time, money, and collaborators before they can begin. Beyond the obvious potential advantages for diabetics, he claims that the tablet they are developing might also be more accessible, affordable, and sustainable.
“More than 300,000 Canadians have to inject insulin multiple times per day,” Dr. Pratap-Singh says. “That is a lot of environmental waste from the needles and plastic from the syringe that might not be recycled and go to landfill, which wouldn’t be a problem with an oral tablet.”
He notes that they are hoping to lower the price of insulin per dosage since their oral substitute may be less expensive and simpler to produce. For diabetics who presently have to think about keeping their doses cool, transporting the tablets would be simpler.