Novartis cuts deal with start-up for oral biologic delivery

The explosion in biologic R&D means that many new drugs coming onto the market are large molecules delivered by injection, but Novartis wants more to be available for oral dosing.

To that end, the Swiss pharma giant has reached an agreement with drug delivery specialist Rani Therapeutics on a ‘robotic capsule’ technology that is in early-stage development.

The device developed by Rani takes the form of an oval capsule that, once swallowed, can be activated – by an actuator or balloon-like mechanism – to push barb-like projections loaded with the drug payload into the blood vessels within the walls of the gastrointestinal tract.

The barbs are deployed in response to stimuli in the gut, such as pH, and are made of biodegradable, sugar-like material that dissolves away to release the drug payload. Medicines delivered in this way have a shorter onset of action than those given by subcutaneous or intramuscular injection, according to the company.

Rani chief executive Mir Imran said that the approach has already shown promise in preclinical studies involving drugs such as insulin and adalimumab – the antibody in AbbVie’s big-selling Humira product.

“The delivery of large molecules orally is considered the holy grail of drug delivery, and there have been many failed attempts before us,” he said, adding: “We are confident that our approach has the potential to radically change the way biologics are administered to patients.”

California-based Rani has already been awarded several US patents on the technology covering its use for delivering a range of large therapeutic molecules including the GLP-1 agonists pramlintide, liraglutide and exenatide and tumour necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitor etanercept.

Novartis is no stranger to exploring the use of leading-edge technologies for monitoring and treating patients. Last year, it announced a push to scour the technology sectors to find devices that can be used to improve patient management, something that it refers to as the ‘digital patient journey’.

The company already has agreements in place with Google, on a smart contact lens technology for measuring glucose levels in diabetics and correct vision, and with Proteus Digital Health to develop microchip-laden pills that can tell if patients have taken their medication, a technology that has also been adopted by the UK NHS.

Novartis’ vision includes smart mobile devices and wearable technologies that could guide patient therapy and clinical trials, but also includes a joined-up system in which technology is deployed to make healthcare more efficient, give patients a bigger say in their treatment and, potentially, predict illness before it happens.

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