i2O Therapeutics: Taking the Syringe Out of Your Medicine Cabinet

Based at Harvard, the BioTech startup aims to replace injectable drugs—including insulin—with oral pills

14.04.2020 | by Reve Fisher
Photo by CDC on Unsplash
Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Boston-based i2O Therapeutics wants to take the pain out of medication compliance⁠—literally. The BioTech startup is converting drugs that are typically delivered via a syringe—biologics, large molecules, and peptide-based pharmaceuticals—into pills for oral delivery, making insulin as easily consumable as a multivitamin. 

Launched as part of Harvard Innovation Labs, the company is formulating ionic liquid technologies developed in the lab of Harvard bioengineer Samir Mitragotri. Dr Mitragotri is a Hiller Professor of Bioengineering and a Hansjorg Wyss Professor of Biologically Inspired Engineering at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), as well as a core faculty member at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

“For millions of patients worldwide, a pill would be more attractive than a therapy that needs to be injected,” Isaac Kohlberg, Harvard’s Senior Associate Provost and Chief Technology Development Officer, told the Harvard Gazette. “Oral delivery of biologics is a challenge that many engineers and chemists have tried to address, and one that becomes more urgent as modalities trend toward peptide, antibody, and mRNA therapies.”

Dr Mitragotri’s research has overcome the main problems that prevent such drugs from being ingested orally, such as the physical barrier created by mucus and cell lining in the gut as well as the capability for digestive enzymes to destabilise the molecules of the medication.

“Our technology has the potential to enable the oral delivery of high-value drugs in a safer, more effective and patient-friendly way and also by easing the treatment burden for dozens of therapeutics that were previously restricted to intravenous or subcutaneous delivery,” Dr Mitragotri explained in a statement.

In a 2018 article published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Mitragotri’s lab demonstrated the successful oral delivery of insulin by using ionic liquids in animal models.

“We showed that we can formulate insulin in the ionic liquid, we can stabilise it, and we can get substantial fractions of the delivered dose into blood circulation,” he told the Harvard Gazette.

The lab has received funding and strategic advising from Harvard’s Blavatnik Biomedical Accelerator to advance and validate the technology—an investment that led i2O Therapeutics to be officially established in 2019. According to Dr Mitragotri, diabetes, autoimmune disease, and oncology are the main areas where this technology would make the strongest impact.

i2O Therapeutics has raised $4 million in seed funding to expand its team, further advance research and development to create the “next generation of oral-peptide and protein-based therapies.” The funding round was led by Sanofi Ventures and JDRF T1D Fund.

“We are excited to partner with i2O Therapeutics, whose platform has the potential to revolutionize the way people with diabetes manage their disease,” commented Katie Ellias, managing director of the JDRF T1D Fund.

“The possibility of an oral insulin product, among other exciting applications of the i2O platform, represents a significant commercial opportunity and more importantly, has the potential to improve glycemic management and decrease hypoglycemia risk over today’s injectable insulins.”

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