July 25, 2024

Innovative Drug Delivery System Offers Potential for Significant Reduction in Diabetes Shots

Researchers at Stanford University have developed a groundbreaking hydrogel drug delivery system that could revolutionize the treatment of diabetes and weight control. The system, detailed in a study published in Cell Reports Medicine, has the potential to transform daily or weekly injections of drugs used to manage diabetes and weight control into once every four months. By significantly reducing the frequency of shots, this new system aims to improve patient compliance with drug regimens and enhance long-term health outcomes for individuals with type 2 diabetes.

Currently, drugs used in the treatment of diabetes, such as Ozempic, Mounjaro, Trulicity, and Victoza, are administered through daily or weekly injections. Although these drugs have proven effective in helping patients manage their diets and weight, the burden of frequent injections can be challenging for many individuals. Adherence to treatment plans is considered one of the biggest obstacles in type 2 diabetes management. Associate Professor Eric Appel, principal investigator of the hydrogel project, explained that reducing the number of shots to just three per year would greatly facilitate adherence for patients with diabetes or obesity.

Type 2 diabetes affects around half a billion people worldwide, with 130 million of those individuals residing in the United States alone. The annual cost of treatment for diabetes in the US exceeds $400 billion. Glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) drugs, which mimic the hormone of the same name, have been hailed as a transformative treatment option due to their ability to control energy intake, increase satiety, and reduce hunger. These drugs also target reward-related dietary effects. However, the current delivery method in the form of regular injections poses challenges. Appel’s hydrogel addresses this issue by utilizing nanoparticles and polymers that are weakly bound to each other, allowing for controlled release over an extended period.

The hydrogel is composed of a mesh of polymer chains and nanoparticles that securely hold the drug molecules until the mesh dissolves, releasing the drugs slowly. Appel compared the process to a sugar cube dissolving molecule by molecule over the course of several months. Despite its gel-like stability, the hydrogel can be easily injected using standard needles. The physician administers a small amount of drug-laden hydrogel, referred to as a depot, beneath the skin, typically in a convenient location like the armpit. The hydrogel is designed to be inconspicuous and comfortable for the patient while lasting the full four-month period.

The hydrogel’s release timeframe can be adjusted to various durations, ranging from days to up to six months. The researchers have successfully tested the system in laboratory rats, demonstrating its efficacy in improving blood glucose management and weight control compared to daily injections of existing drugs. While initially developed for GLP-1 drugs, the researchers believe this drug delivery method could be applied to other medications and medical conditions. There is even evidence to suggest that GLP-1 drugs can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, further highlighting the potential impact of the hydrogel system.

The next step for the researchers is to conduct trials in pigs, whose skin and endocrine systems are more similar to those of humans. If these trials yield positive results, human clinical trials could commence within the next two years. Appel emphasized that the hydrogel system has laid the groundwork for prolonged release delivery of GLP-1-based treatments for diabetes and obesity, potentially benefiting patients with type 2 diabetes and other conditions. The system has also shown promising results in children with type 1 diabetes.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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