Novo buys Ziylo for glucose-responsive insulin platform

Novo Nordisk has bought Ziylo to fuel its work on next-generation insulins. The takeover gives Novo control of a platform that could support development of insulins that respond to glucose.

Glucose-responsive insulin has huge potential. Such an insulin would have a better therapeutic index than today’s drugs, resulting in tighter control over glucose levels and a lower risk of hypoglycemia. The insulin could circulate in the bloodstream in an inert form, only to activate when it detects a rise in glucose levels.

Researchers have worked on the idea for decades without much success but there have been signs of progress in recent years. In January, Merck published preclinical data on a glucose-responsive insulin. Researchers at MIT and other organizations are working on the problem, too.

Novo, with its heavy reliance on diabetes, can ill afford for a rival to develop a next-generation insulin that crushes its key franchise. In looking to secure itself a spot at the front of the pack, Novo zeroed in on Ziylo, a University of Bristol spinout that is developing synthetic molecules that are selective for glucose in blood.

Denmark’s Novo offered more than $800 million in upfront and milestone payments to bag its target. Neither party has shared a breakdown of the payments, but the deal is likely to be very backloaded. Ziylo is yet to move candidates based on its platform into human testing. In fact, Ziylo has focused more on the diagnostic potential of its platform than the therapeutic applications prior to the Novo deal.

Novo is freeing the Ziylo team to continue working on the diagnostic uses of its technology at a new spinout, Carbometrics. The spinout has the right to use the platform in non-therapeutic applications, chiefly continuous glucose monitors. Novo has formed a research collaboration with Carbometrics to receive ongoing help with the optimization of glucose binding molecules.

Marcus Schindler, SVP of global drug discovery at Novo, thinks the combination of expertise will fuel the advance of the programs.

"We believe the glucose binding molecules discovered by the Ziylo team together with Novo Nordisk world-class insulin capabilities have the potential to lead to the development of glucose responsive insulins which we hope can remove the risk of hypoglycemia and ensure optimal glucose control for people with diabetes,” Schindler said in a statement.