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Arecor punches above its weight with trials for fast-acting diabetes drugs

Investors are placing bets on a small British biotech to rival big pharma as it pushes its first diabetes drug through clinical trials

Arecor -
Currently, the US$22bn a year insulin market is gobbled up by three pharma giants: Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi Aventis, who have been ordered to face US courts over price-gouging for the hormone

Arecor Ltd is on a mission to improve diabetes care, and the right people seem to be taking it very seriously.

So far, the company has attracted £6mln in private equity funding and partnered with the world’s largest diabetes charity to develop better treatments.

In October, it took another big step forward when it finished dosing its first ever phase I study of its ultra-fast-acting insulin, AT247.

According to Arecor’s chief executive, Sarah Howell, “there’s still a huge unmet need for faster-acting insulins that act more like a physiological insulin, and so can match a healthy person’s response to spikes in blood glucose”.

Its solution is to create a new formulation of insulin that is absorbed faster in order to stop diabetics’ blood glucose levels spiking dangerously after meals.

A growing problem

With a growing patient base of 425mln diabetics worldwide, annual sales of the essential blood-sugar regulating hormone insulin tot up to a staggering US$22bn.

But despite the size of the market and the medical need, very few companies have been keen to jump in.

Today, the global insulin market is controlled by an oligopoly of pharma giants - Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk, and Sanofi Aventis - which manufacture most of the world’s supply between them.

Size matters

A small British biotech might seem an unlikely player to throw its hat in the ring at this point, but Arecor has already proved it can run with the big dogs.

A spin-out from Unilever, up until now Arecor has focused on using its technology platform, Arestat, to design better formulations for existing drugs for Big Pharma.

Now, Arecor is developing its own products.

Howell explained the shift: “We know from working with partners that we can truly deliver profiles that they’re unable to develop for themselves.

“So, why not now take that, and select existing products on the market to develop them ourselves and capture more market value?” she asked.

The diabetes drug, AT247, is Arecor’s first product to be taken through clinical trials, which Howell called a “huge milestone”.

Dosing for a phase I study, in which the new treatment went head to head with the best-in-class insulin, has just completed.

Early signs from the trial are promising, Howell said, with no adverse side effects or reactions reported at the injection site.

This is a very important measure because diabetics usually have to inject insulin two or three times a day.

Track record

Arecor’s advantage over other would-be innovators is that not only does it have its own revenue stream from licensing its technology platform, but it is also working with drugs whose efficacy is already proven.

“Because safety and efficacy of insulin is already known, we don’t have to demonstrate that, and those are the really expensive studies,” said Howell.

Its later studies will instead focus on determining which diabetes groups (type 1 or 2) will garner most benefit from the fast-acting insulin and whether treatment should be delivered via injection or in a pump.

Not only does this approach stave off the need to tap the market for additional cash, but with £6mln already in the bank from a fundraising round last year, it also speeds up the process of getting it to market, which usually takes around a decade for new drugs.

Howell said there is “no drive” to raise more cash from investors, adding the company is “sufficiently funded for now to take new products through development”.

This includes Arecor’s stable of other assets. It recently won the backing of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), the world's leading type-1 diabetes research charity, to develop a new liquid combination of insulin and another diabetes drug called pramlintide.

Moving up in the world

However, the company’s early backers, the private equity funds and others that chipped into the latest cash call, will be interested in more immediate milestones, including the read-out from the phase I assessment of AT247.

And after that?

A “very quick phase II study” within the next calendar year, said Howell, before Arecor moves AT247 into phase III. So, there’s plenty happening.

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