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Irish pharma firm to look at development of diabetic insulin pill

The life sciences division of Alltech, the animal nutrition and crop science firm founded by the late Dr Pearse Lyons, is working on a potential replacement for insulin, the hormone that diabetics use to manage their condition.

The firm, whose European headquarters are in Dunboyne, Co Meath, has been working on a compound - which could be taken as a pill and perform all the functions of insulin in the body - for 12 years, according to chief scientific officer Dr Ronan Power.

In 2015, Alltech bought over a craft brewery in Newry formerly owned by the Haughey family, owners of the Norbrook veterinary medicine business.

Alltech's breakthrough discovery is of a chemical compound called NPC43, which can be administered orally or by injection.

Dr Power explained it would need to get through trials and be authorised by drug regulators.

He said: "Dr Lyons rarely mentioned this project to avoid disclosing Alltech's intellectual property, but he was fully behind the initiative because it could help people and it challenges the insulin industry status quo.

"Potentially, it replaces insulin injections and expense with a pill that can be taken perhaps twice a day and has an excellent shelf life of over two years at room temperature.

"It's very expensive to conduct all of the tests and trials this will require. We don't yet have a figure or timeline on it but, while we would have to recoup the investment made in such a process, we absolutely want this to be an affordable alternative to insulin.

"The egregious price increases in the insulin industry need to be challenged. Affordable alternatives to insulin are a sure way to do this.

"We are looking to partner with other companies or agencies to develop this. It's unlikely that we could bear the full development costs ourselves."

Dr Power said having full control of the pricing is the wish of the family and the late Dr Pearse.

NPC43 works by reactivating dormant insulin receptors, thereby allowing blood glucose to enter cells.

It also inhibits glucose production from diabetic liver - a condition associated with insulin resistance that worsens the problem of having excess glucose in the bloodstream.

"If our research continues to hold up, this breakthrough will mean no more insulin injections, pens or pumps," said Dr Power.

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