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New inhalable insulin could free diabetics from shots

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Insulin that can be inhaled was briefly available to diabetics a few years ago -- but weak sales drove drugmakers to shut down their sales.

Now, a new inhalable insulin powder that's more effective than injected and oral treatments could be available as early as next year. Businessweek reports.

In a late-stage clinical trial, Afrezza showed positive results for controlling diabetes. Taken with a small inhaler (called Dreamboat), the powder helps insulin reach peak levels within 14 minutes -- matching the insulin release in non-diabetics when they eat.

According to the drug’s maker, California-based MannKind, in this latest study -- involving 518 patients with Type 2 diabetes (where cells fail to use insulin properly) -- Afrezza helped reduce long-term blood sugar levels. It’s also expected to be used by patients with Type 1 diabetes (where the body produces no insulin).

Pharmaceutical companies have been working on inhalable insulin for a long time -- on the theory that diabetics would rather puff on an inhaler than give themselves a shot. They’ve faced high profile commercial failures in the past:

In 2007, Pfizer stopped selling its Exubera insulin powder because of weak sales after less than two years on the market. Exubera never gained traction, largely because insurers wouldn’t pay for it, saying it was too expensive and didn’t work for many patients. Eli Lilly & Co. and Novo Nordisk both ended inhaled insulin research programs in 2008.

According to MannKind last week, Afrezza is more effective than the prior drugs and could cost about the same as the current injectable insulin "pens" (about $2,000 annually).

The market for diabetes treatment is "so immense and it’s growing so rapidly," says MannKind’s Matthew Pfeffer. More than 8 percent of Americans have Type 2 diabetes. "While we think of our country as having an obesity and diabetes epidemic, we’re not even in the top 10 of incidence of diabetes."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration rejected Afrezza in 2011. The company plans to file these latest results with the FDA this fall and expect a decision in 2014.

[Via Businessweek, Reuters]

Image: MannKind

— By on August 19, 2013, 5:52 PM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure