Novo Nordisk Kills Off Oral Insulin Project


Many in the Type 1 diabetes community wish for two things: lower insulin prices and non-injectable insulin. Now, there’s evidence that the former may have killed off the latter.

According to a Fierce Biotech report, Novo Nordisk announced in an October 31st earnings call that it is halting research and development efforts aimed at creating an oral form of insulin. Trick or treat!

Novo Nordisk was considered the last major player in the pharmaceutical industry working towards the development of oral insulin. Adding salt to the wound, Novo Nordisk Chief Science Officer Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen blamed the decision to end the oral insulin project on the downward pressure insurance payers are demanding for the price of insulin.

Read more: How to (possibly) make oral insulin possible.

“The payer environment … means that in mature areas, such as insulin, for instance, it is really a question of having a very high innovation threshold to justify new projects,” Thomsen is quoted as saying in the report.

This isn’t the first time in recent memory that a major insulin manufacturer has backed away from a non-injectable form of insulin. Earlier this year, Sanofi formally ended its partnership to market Afrezza, an inhalable form of insulin. Both companies are seeing their once-steady profit margins slipping, as patents for basal insulin formulations run out and insurance companies balk at steadily rising insulin prices.

That pressure on their profits isn’t likely to abate anytime soon. That’s because politicians have finally started to call out the drugmakers who seem to raise the price of established drug therapies at will. After the initial firestorm over price spikes in an anti-AIDS therapy and the EpiPen, the pitchforks are beginning to point toward insulin makers. Just one tweet from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders about the price increases of Humalog caused shares of Eli Lilly and Co. to lose 1 percent of its value; and that share price were already on a recent downward trend.

Read more: Oral Dosing May Ward Off Type 1 Diabetes. 

There are researchers still working on ways to make oral insulin viable. Unfortunately, falling profit margins are not conducive for companies to take risks. That means if we want to see any cutting-edge advancement in new drug therapies for Type 1 diabetes, those therapies might have to be developed with companies in conjunction with non-profits. Already we’re seeing a test of that partnership, as JDRF recently partnered with Mannkind, the makers of Afrezza, to try and salvage inhalable insulin’s standing in the marketplace. Also, diabetes advocates will need to apply a heavy amount of unrelenting pressure on policymakers, nonprofits, and for-profit companies to motivate forward progress.

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Craig Idlebrook is a past editor for Insulin Nation, Type 2 Nation, and Información Sobre Diabetes. He is now the community engagement and content manager for T1D Exchange.

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