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Cambridge biotech makes diabetes breakthrough

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Diabetic prepares insulin injection
Diabetic prepares insulin injection

A small biotech company from Cambridgeshire has discovered a new way to deliver insulin, marking a technical breakthrough that could change the lives of people with type-two diabetes.

Some people with diabetes currently have to inject insulin several times a day. The new technology could lead to smaller volumes of doses and fewer daily injections.

It could also enable "miniaturised" insulin delivery devices for type-two diabetics.

Arecor, which was spun out of Unilever 14 years ago, has found a way to reformulate and stabilise insulin so that it can be administered at very high concentrations, but still be absorbed quickly into the body, a combination that, until now, has evaded scientists.

Shares in Arecor surged by a third to 331p with analysts saying "it is better than even the most positive outcome we had anticipated". The company listed on the Aim in June, raising £20m.

The results from the phase one study beat expectations, with the glucose-lowering properties of the technology even better than existing gold-standard treatment.

Sarah Howell, chief executive, said: "What is unique here is it has the potential to be the first ultra-concentrated insulin - so at 500 units per millilitre - and also ultra-rapid acting insulin available to patients, so we've been able to overcome the challenge of when you concentrate the insulin it slows down absorption."

Dr David Cox, a director at City broker Panmure Gordon, said: "Higher concentration insulins normally have slower glucose lowering action, but Arecor’s technology has enabled a faster action. This insulin profile is highly attractive for the type-two diabetes market and could even mean that patients with type-two diabetes can use insulin pumps to manage their condition."

The type-two diabetes market is three times larger than type one, with 28m insulin users globally. The market for Arecor's reformulated insulin is worth roughly $6.4bn (£4.69bn) a year, Ms Howell said.

She added: "What we are looking to enable is the next generation of miniaturised insulin pumps. So smaller, body-worn patch pumps delivering enough insulin to type-two diabetics who need higher volumes of insulin."

The technology still needs to go through phase two and phase three trials; if it succeeds it could hit the market in 2025. Arecor will partner with a bigger player to commercialise the product.

Arecor specialises in formulation technology, which involves making existing medicines better by improving the ingredients and changing the way these ingredients are mixed together.

It is working on a second ultra-rapid acting insulin formulation, but for people with type-one diabetes, that it hopes will enable what is called an "artificial pancreas", or a pump in a closed-loop system in the body that monitors glucose levels in real time and delivers insulin when needed.

"The current gold standard insulin on the market is not fast-acting enough to counteract the rapid rise in blood glucose at meal times when levels spike so patients have to come out of the system," said Ms Howell.

"Our insulin would let them stay in that closed loop pancreas."

The company also has a pipeline of other non-diabetes products that it is developing in collaboration with other companies, including generics giant Hikma.

Unilever remains Arecor's biggest single shareholder, with a 13.6pc stake in the company.

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