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Merck Purchases SmartCells – Wow, an Insulin (Maybe) That Doesn’t Come with Hypoglycemia!

Published: 1/31/11
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By Kelly Close

In late 2010, Merck announced that it had acquired SmartCells, a small Massachusetts-based company that is developing a smart insulin product aptly named SmartInsulin. What’s so smart about SmartInsulin? The compound that Merck is developing is a “glucose-dependent” insulin meaning that once dosed, the fraction of the insulin that is “active” in the body will continually change in response to current blood glucose levels. In theory, this glucose responsiveness will allow patients to control both fasting and postprandial glucose levels and significantly reduce the risks for hypoglycemia. SmartInsulin is still in animal studies, but should enter human trials shortly.  For patients, this means that approval is likely a long way off, probably at least five years away.  That said, an insulin that does not prompt hypoglycemia, no matter how far away is exciting indeed. We are glad to see Merck, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, make a substantial investment (potentially over $500 million!) in a product that can significantly improve insulin therapy for people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The Merck-SmartCells agreement makes us hopeful that glucose-dependent formulations are feasible long-term, and we are encouraged that other companies, including Novo Nordisk and Biodel, are also working on smart insulin products of their own. We look forward to tracking this field in the years to come and we’ll keep you updated as we hear more. --KC

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