The race is on to develop the world's first insulin pill to eliminate the need for daily injections for diabetics. And a small Israeli-based company appears to be leading the pack.
Oramed Pharmaceuticals says it hopes to be able to offer the tablets to millions of diabetics by 2016.
Nadav Kidron, CEO of Oramed tells the website No Camels , “Oral insulin does not exist in the world today, but we are the furthest advanced in getting it into the market. We are just about to start a Phase 2 trial in the United States, which is big news.”
Oramed already had success in a Phase 2 trial in South Africa in May 2010, but in order to get approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the project requires more rigorous testing. If it passes Phase 2 trials in the US early next year, Phase 3 trials would begin about a year later.
Bloomberg reports Novo Nordisk A/S is also in the race to develop the pill but is still in the clinical study phase.
Bloomberg quotes Vincent Meunier, an analyst at investment company Exane BNP Paribas in Paris saying that an insulin pill could reach peak sales of from $5 billion to $10 billion.“It would be one of the biggest drugs of all time."
So why hasn't anyone invented a pill since insulin was first developed by Canadian researchers Banting and Best 80 years ago? Apparently insulin is easily destroyed by the body's digestive system. Kidron tells The Jewish Press, “First, insulin is a peptide, which is a small protein, and when you swallow it, it gets degraded by the body’s enzymes. Second, the size of the insulin – it doesn’t go through the gut wall, and therefore it doesn’t reach the blood circulation. Think of insulin as a tennis ball and the gut wall as the net. The ball doesn’t go through the net.” The Daily Mail reports researchers have now been able to coat the tablets with a special molecule which allows the insulin to get through the walls of the intestine and enter the bloodstream.
According to the American Diabetes Association, over 25 million Americans, or eight percent of the population, currently suffer from diabetes. Worldwide, the number is approximately 350 million. Bloomberg says someone dies of diabetes complications every seven seconds.