Harvard spins out biologics-in-a-pill company with a focus on Type 1 diabetes

By encapsulating complex drugs within an ionic liquid, researchers found the mixture could shepherd large proteins such as insulin past the barriers of the stomach and small intestine in animal models. (Pixabay)

A new spinout from Harvard University hopes to one day have people with diabetes reach for a bottle of pills instead of the syringe when they need to take their frequent medications.

In 2018, researchers in the bioengineering laboratory of Harvard’s Samir Mitragotri published their methods for turning liquid drugs into a newly encapsulated and easy-to-swallow form, and demonstrated early success with insulin in animal models.

Now, i2O Therapeutics is starting out with $4 million in seed money—from Sanofi Ventures and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s T1D Fund—and plans to take that tech to GLP1 analogs, the glucagon-like peptides that can help maintain blood sugar levels.

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“Our technology has the potential to enable the oral delivery of high-value drugs in a safer, more effective and patient-friendly way and also by easing the treatment burden for dozens of therapeutics that were previously restricted to intravenous or subcutaneous delivery,” said Mitragotri, the Hiller Professor of Bioengineering and Hansjorg Wyss Professor of Biologically Inspired Engineering.

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By encapsulating complex drugs within an ionic liquid—that is, a slurry made of charged ions, compared to electrically neutral liquids such as water—researchers found the mixture could shepherd large proteins such as insulin past the mucus barriers and walls of the intestine and into the bloodstream. 

Meanwhile, a relatively simple coating would allow the pill to pass through the harsh, acidic environment of the stomach. The lab’s findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“By choosing the right ions, you can control the properties, so you can make them more viscous, less viscous, more tissue penetrating, or inert,” said Mitragotri, who will serve as a board member and scientific advisory to i2O.

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“We pair these formulations up with specific drugs, and we have shown in the lab that a variety of drugs can be delivered, like insulin, including other peptides, small molecules, and antibodies,” he added. “The primary indications are likely to include diabetes, autoimmune disease and oncology.”

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