Smart Insulin Technology — A Promising Intuitive Automated Diabetic Care Solution

Published on 29 Nov, 2017

From a patient’s perspective, those suffering from both type 1 and type 2 diabetes need to take care of their own medication schedule, dosages, as well as the timing of their meals in order to control blood sugar levels. For the unaccustomed, such regimens can be quite uncomfortable, and more often than not, results in side-effects and adverse outcomes due to human error or improper management.

Smart Insulin could make all that a thing of the past.

The ultimate objectives of diabetes management are metabolic control & body weight maintenance through improving overall nutrition and lifestyle, in addition to the administration of proper medication — and dosages of insulin — of course. Current insulin replacement treatments are advancing in terms of synthetics and biological insulin analogues, improving prevalent delivery mechanisms such as syringes, pre-filled insulin pens, and insulin pumps.

Ease of use is an unmet patient need that creates space for advancements in current drug regimen through innovative solutions. Current solutions for both insulin and its delivery systems have reduced patient discomfort, but there’s still plenty of scope for improvement.

Prandial (or rapid-acting “mealtime”) insulin does not respond accurately to actual blood glucose levels, and false measurements of blood glucose by devices (or patients) can result in a hypoglycemic or hyperglycemic conditions.

While current solutions are effective enough, patient discomfort and the availability of sufficient medical facilities are major roadblocks that are yet to be overcome. This has spurred innovation from inventors across the globe, and the domain is an unenviable and crowded red ocean market. Major players, minuscule startups, and even academic institutes are strategizing technologies that can cater to a growing diabetic population.

Some emerging solutions that could overcome the challenges associated with currently available technologies include smart insulin, stem cell therapy, insulin pumps, artificial pancreas, and more. Smart insulin is one of the more promising future technologies in this space, attracting a myriad of researchers and pharmaceutical giants. Smart insulin could potentially offer advantages such as decreasing the number of regular blood tests required, reducing the number of injections to one per day, and reduce some of the stresses that diabetic patients (and their families) are all too familiar with in overall diabetes management.

Unlike regular Insulin, which relies on manual dosage and administration that may be susceptible to human error, Smart Insulin works autonomously, although in a rather straightforward manner. As blood sugar levels rise, the Smart Insulin formulation gets activated by a biochemical "switch" through the presence of glucose in the system, as illustrated next.

Once the Smart Insulin reduces blood glucose levels to within acceptable limits, it automatically becomes inactive due to the absence of its biochemical trigger.

Smart Insulin’s regulatory mechanism can act on its own, without the risks associated with conventional insulin. The idea still needs refinement though, and it has raised the potential customers’ expectations of smart sugar monitoring and ease of use, besides putting increased pressure on market players to fast-track breakthrough technologies.

The hunt is on for glucose-responsive insulin that can regulate its own release, according to real-time glucose levels in blood. The real innovation, however, lies in the maintenance of the insulin’s controlled release through smart glucose sensing.

Market Turbulence Due to Smart Insulin

Novo Nordisk’s patent US7317000B2 is among the most valuable assets in terms of IPR for smart insulin formulation. Its novelty glucose responsive membrane plug controlled insulin release system has been cited the most by major players, including Merck, which is a major innovator itself, and among the first to delve into smart insulin. Through the acquisition of SmartCell, a startup at MIT, Merck aggressively expanded for the protection of its patent rights worldwide. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is the leading research lab for this revolutionary idea, and it’s continuing the innovative trend.

Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), a charitable organization dedicated to funding type 1 diabetes research, is actively involved with seeding ideas at very nascent stages of the innovation cycle, and it helps in giving them an industrial platform for the transformation of such ideas into real-world products. Merck and Sanofi Avantis, among the biggest players in the market, have entered into active collaborations with JDRF to support their innovative ideas. Biodel Inc, a small company, patented a smart insulin formulation in 2016, and was subsequently acquired in the same year by Albireo Pharma Inc.


Future Outlook

For the period 2013-2023, according to, the type 1 diabetes market will soon reach a double-digit growth figure of $13.6 billion, with CAGR 7.6%. Novo Nordisk, with its 27 % market share in diabetics care, can boost its dominance through its breakthrough smart insulin invention. Merck is committed to capitalizing the opportunity through its aggressive strategies in smart insulin formulation, already having completed  phase I trials for type 1 diabetes mellitus in 2016.

Plenty of major pharma companies like Eli Lilly and Sanofi are focusing on smart insulin technology, and as a number of big players continually push the boundaries of innovation, both independently as well as collaboratively, patients can look forward to big relief from complex diabetic management through intuitive insulin management technologies in the near future.

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