Washington: Indian-origin researchers in US are developing a novel insulin pill that can provide a painless and more effective blood sugar management option to those who suffer from diabetes.
The drug delivery technology may also apply to a wide spectrum of other therapies, researchers said.
"With diabetes, there's a tremendous need for oral delivery," said Samir Mitragotri, a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of California - Santa Barbara.
"People take insulin several times a day and delivery by needles is a big challenge," said Mitragotri, who specialises in targeted drug delivery.
For those who do not like needles, the discomfort injections can pose is a huge barrier to compliance, said Amrita Banerjee, a postdoctoral researcher in the Mitragotri Lab.
"It can lead to mismanagement of treatment and complications that lead to hospitalisation," she said.
A pill could circumvent the discomfort associated with the needle while potentially providing a more effective dose, the researchers said.
"When you deliver insulin by injection, it goes first through the peripheral bloodstream and then to blood circulation in the liver," Mitragotri said.
Oral delivery would take a more direct route, he added, and, from a physiological point of view, a better one.
While oral medications to assist the body with insulin production have been around for a while, a pill that delivers insulin remains a highly sought goal of diabetes medicine.
The main obstacle to its development has been getting the medication past the hostile proteolytic environment of the stomach and intestine without destroying the protein itself.
In this case, the key is a combination of enteric-coated capsules and insulin-loaded mucoadhesive polymer patches that were optimised by Banerjee as part of her research.
The new pill has demonstrated its ability to survive stomach acids with the protection of the enteric-coated capsule and deliver its payload to the small intestine.
There, the capsule opens up to release the patches that adhere to the intestinal wall, preventing access of proteolytic enzymes to insulin and, with the aid of a permeation enhancer, depositing insulin that can pass through to the blood.
"This is the first essential step in showing that these patches can deliver insulin," Mitragotri said.
Like any other novel therapy, however, it must undergo additional stages of testing and improvement before it can be considered as a viable treatment for diabetes.
The drug-loaded mucoadhesive patches show early promise for other forms of therapy, as well, researchers said.
"We can deliver many proteins that are currently injected," Mitragotri added.