Sunday 15 December 2019

Alltech pill to offer 'insulin alternative' to diabetics

Lyons family firm believes it has medical breakthrough

'Alltech's breakthrough discovery is of a chemical compound called NPC43, which can be administered orally or by injection.' (stock photo)
'Alltech's breakthrough discovery is of a chemical compound called NPC43, which can be administered orally or by injection.' (stock photo)

John Reynolds

The life sciences division of Alltech, the animal nutrition and crop science firm founded by Dundalk native billionaire, the late Dr Pearse Lyons, is working on a potential replacement for insulin, the hormone that diabetics use to manage their condition.

The firm, whose European headquarters are in Dunboyne, Co Meath, has been working on a compound - which could be taken as a pill and perform all the functions of insulin in the body - for 12 years, according to chief scientific officer Dr Ronan Power.

Alltech's breakthrough discovery is of a chemical compound called NPC43, which can be administered orally or by injection.

It would need to get through medical trials and be authorised by drug regulators, he said.

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"Dr Lyons rarely mentioned this project to avoid disclosing Alltech's intellectual property, but he was fully behind the initiative because it could help people and it challenges the insulin industry status quo," said Dr Power.

"Potentially, it replaces insulin injections and expense with a pill that can be taken perhaps twice a day and has an excellent shelf life of over two years at room temperature.

"It's very expensive to conduct all of the tests and trials this will require.

"We don't yet have a figure or timeline on it but, while we would have to recoup the investment made in such a process, we absolutely want this to be an affordable alternative to insulin.

"The egregious price increases in the insulin industry need to be challenged. Affordable alternatives to insulin are a sure way to do this.

"We are looking to partner with other companies or agencies to develop this. It's unlikely that we could bear the full development costs ourselves.

"However, we would insist on sufficient control of the product so as to ensure that we have a say in the final pricing.

"That was the express wish of the late Dr Lyons and remains the wish of his family."

Diabetes is putting a huge strain on health services worldwide, with the American Diabetes Association reporting that the total costs of diagnosed diabetes increased from $245bn (€222bn) in 2012 to $327bn in 2017.

Meanwhile, the Irish Medical Times reported in 2017 that the overall cost to the HSE here was €70m a year.

NPC43 works by reactivating dormant insulin receptors, thereby allowing blood glucose to enter cells.

Furthermore, it inhibits glucose production from diabetic liver - a condition associated with insulin resistance that worsens the problem of having excess glucose in the bloodstream.

"If our research continues to hold up, this breakthrough will mean no more insulin injections, pens or pumps for diabetes sufferers. We have discovered a compound which can be taken as a pill and which performs all the functions of insulin in the body," said Dr Power.

Type 1 diabetes is where the body loses the ability to manufacture insulin, while type 2 diabetics produce insulin, but the insulin receptor, which recognises insulin and actuates the entry of glucose from the bloodstream into tissues, is broken. Individuals with the latter condition are 'insulin-resistant'.

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