By Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, Chief Scientific Officer at Novo
Published 21 February 2019
For many years we’ve worked on a scientific challenge of huge
importance: finding a way to deliver biological medicines like insulin
and GLP-1 in tablets, rather than via injection. While the safety and
efficacy of a medicine should always be the first consideration, we
know from speaking to patients that convenience is highly valued –
particularly when it is the difference between taking a tablet and
injecting oneself. So, if we could remove the barrier that needles
inevitably represent, we could make biological medicines more
accessible for patients and evolve our future offering to people with
serious chronic diseases.
Putting a biological treatment in a tablet is far more easily said
than done and we are not alone in having tried and failed to solve
this scientific puzzle. Articles dating from the early 1920s provide
testimony of the first of many attempts made by scientists to make
insulin the first orally available biologic.
The challenge faced by any researcher is that the body digests and
degrades biologics - peptides and proteins - in the stomach and gut.
Acid and enzymes break down biological medicines the same way they
would break down a steak - the body does not discriminate. As
scientists, our goal is to ‘cheat’ the body’s system and find a way
for biological medicines to bypass these digestive functions and get
into the blood.